Don't fall victim to swine flu scams! - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Don't fall victim to swine flu scams!

By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - At a time when people are fearful of becoming ill from a highly contagious virus, it's a shame people would stoop so low as to try and scam them. They're exploiting fears over the H1-N1 virus and stealing your information.

Some are using e-mail scams while others may be peddling antiviral drugs and other products that isn't what you think. Health officials say there are places to find credible information about the illness.

Right now everyone is fishing for more information about the H1-N1 virus, but there's a shark in the pond. Thieves are using the swine flu as bait and if you're not careful it may be your computer that's sickened by a virus and your personal information compromised.

"It's very frustrating that people would prey on anyone's insecurities at this time," said Southwest Georgia Health District Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant.

Emails referencing a vaccine for swine flu or frequently asked questions are being sent out with a link to a website, but if you click on that link, you may be opening the doorway for thieves.

"It could be a virus, it could be a Trojan, and you don't even know it's on your computer and its sending out information," said Dougherty County Sheriff's Captain Craig Dodd.

So how does it work? "You'll get cookies on your computer that will steadily give out your information everywhere you go, and everything you do on a website. It will send it out to different companies and a lot of which you don't want to have your information," Dodd said.

It can send passwords, your credit card number, and that's not all.

"They can also send passwords to your bank accounts, passwords to your credit card accounts and everything else so they're really unsafe," Dodd said.

The FDA is also warning the public about fraudulent H1-N1 products.

"We've seen this before with past pandemics, this black market of drugs so, be cautious about that activity as well," said Grant.

The Internet sites are promoting products that claim to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the H1-N1 virus. Dr Jacqueline Grant says products to treat the virus should only come from a doctor.

"You should be prescribed those medications to use," said Grant.

The best prevention is those hygiene tips, you're probably tired of hearing. "Hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, not going out to work or school if you're ill," said Grant.

Health officials say there is credible information about the H1-N1 virus out there, you just need to know what websites are safe.

"Southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org or the CDC's website or pandemicflu.gov use those websites, but certainly I would not recommend opening up emails from senders you don't know," said Grant.

So you can remain healthy and your personal information safe from thieves just phishing for trouble and ready to scam you.

Health officials say you shouldn't believe any online offers for vaccinations against swine flu because a vaccine does not exist right now. This is a good time to make sure your anti-virus and anti-spy ware software are up to date.

So how can you protect your personal data stored in your computer from people who want to hijack it?

Two excellent programs, available free, are Spybot S&D (Search & Destroy) and Ad-Aware by Lavasoft.

Consumer Reports magazine says their research gave top honors to a free three-pack of Avira GmbH's AntiVir antivirus program, Microsoft's Windows Defender antispyware software and the Spamfighter antispam program.

"These free programs offer the best combination of performance and price. All are recommended," said Consumer Reports in giving the trio its "CR Best Buy" rating for the category.

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