Scammers are out in full force to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic. Freelancer platform Fiverr, where customers can hire people to perform all sorts of short term work, has been hosting advertisements for so-called "coronavirus healers" and people dubiously claiming to be able to source face masks from Vietnam and China.
The news shows some of the issues that tech platforms face as the pandemic continues, be that misleading and sometimes dangerous medical claims, to users trying to financially profit from the crisis.
"I will give you prophetic blessing and healer your disease, addicted, healer coronavirus," the title of one listing on Fiverr read on Thursday.
Do you work at Fiverr? Do you know anything else about scams during the corornavirus pandemic? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, OTR chat on email@example.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fiverr freelancers offer a wide variety of services, from graphic design, to coding, to copywriting. It can also include more unscrupulous services however; last year Motherboard reported how private investigators were advertising illegal surveillance techniques on the site.
Searching for "coronavirus" and "COVID-19" reveals some related but seemingly innocuous listings, such as exercise coaches offering potential customers tips on their workout while in quarantine. A handful offer dangerous claims that may prey on the vulnerable, though.
"I will Pray & Fasting for your problems in your life- I will pray GOD healing your diseases/addicted drugs or pornograph etc/and free from coronavirus," the first listing continues, asking for between $5 and $20.
"I will give you covid coronavirus protection," another listing reads, asking for $70 to protect 4 to 7 family members. The listing does not say what protection the seller offers exactly, or gives any indication that they are a medical professional.
Countries around the world are facing a shortage of face masks as some cities encourage all residents to wear face protection when outside, and as health care workers are overwhelmed with limited supplies. Opportunists have wedged themselves into that crisis, trying to either scam people desperate for masks, or some criminals such as drug dealers even using their existing supply chains to pivot to selling knock-off face protection.
Several sellers on Fiverr made similar claims, with one listing reading, "I will purchase and ship face mask to you from china." Another listing claimed the seller could obtain masks passed by the FDA.
"Our lives are defined by opportunities," the profile of the seller reads.
When asked for comment Fiverr removed all of the listings Motherboard found.
A Fiverr spokesperson told Motherboard in an email, "During the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, we took swift action to ensure any illegitimate gigs with words related to COVID-19, including the sale of masks and healing, were denied. At these sensitive times, we are cautious regarding all COVID-19 related services and we continue to actively monitor the site to catch and remove any services that may get through our filters. However, there are some legitimate exceptions i.e. gigs related to the current demand for custom at-home fitness plans, cooking lessons, and online music lessons. We are looking into how these specific gigs made it through our checks and filters."
Fiverr is far from the only platform seeing coronavirus-related issues and removing offending content. In March Etsy removed a wave of products trying to capitalize on the pandemic, including t-shirts that read "I Survived Coronavirus 2020."
Platforms are generally trying to remove content that spreads dangerous information around the virus, such as posts which dismiss social distancing.
Because of the pandemic, Facebook sent thousands of its content moderators home, meaning the social network is relying more on its automated systems to remove content. YouTube also ramped up its use of automation.
Consumer Reports found that Facebook approved advertisements that contained coronavirus misinformation.
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