Washington, D.C. – As concerns about the coronavirus mount, consumers’ financial well-being may be impacted as well as their health. “The coronavirus may spur travel disruptions, price-gouging, and scams,” said Susan Grant, Consumer Federation of America’s Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy. “Consumers should be aware of how the virus could affect their wallets as well as their health and be prepared.” CFA offers these tips to help consumers cope:
- Check travel cancelation and refund policies. If you have booked a flight, cruise, train trip, tour, hotel or other travel arrangements and no longer wish to go because of concerns about the virus or because the event you were attending has been cancelled, you are not automatically entitled to refunds or credits. Companies set their own cancelation and refund policies, but many are now making exceptions in light of the situation. Contact the businesses to ask about your options. You may also have protections as a benefit from your credit card issuer. If you haven’t made travel plans yet, ask companies how they will handle cancelation requests before you book. Travel insurance is often offered through airlines and other travel sellers and is also available to purchase independently, but the situations these policies cover vary, so read the fine print and contact the insurer directly to make sure you understand the coverage.
- Report price-gouging. In some states, price hikes for certain necessities are illegal if the governor has declared an “emergency.” Even in the absence of an official emergency, your state or local consumer protection agency may want to hear about sudden increases in prices for items such as face masks, sanitizing products, and essential household goods. You should also notify companies such as eBay and Amazon if you notice that sellers using their platforms are offering such products at exorbitant prices.
- Investors beware. In times of wild market swings, consumers may be vulnerable to scare tactics designed for lure them into “safer” investments that in reality have hidden risks and costs. For example, salespeople might prey on people’s fears to sell them annuities by claiming that these products “do not lose value like stocks” or are “no cost” investments, neither of which is true. Contact your state securities regulator if you have questions about investment offers.
- Watch for other scams. Crooks take advantage of hot topics in the news, and the coronavirus is no exception. There are already reports about scammers sending emails pretending to be from well-known health organizations and including attachments or links which, if you click on them, can infect your computer and steal the personal information it contains. It would not be surprising to see other scams emerge, such as bogus claims for products to prevent or cure coronavirus. Be on guard for unexpected messages or offers that are suspicious and contact your state or local consumer agency for advice before you respond. You can also report scams to those agencies and to the Federal Trade Commission.