Stock up on the basics, but trash those e-mails and ads promising protection from anthrax or terrorism, local officials say.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A new host of scam artists promising to protect consumers from anthrax is preying on the people's fears borne from the national crisis, the head of the local Better Business Bureau says.
"It's terrible," said Patricia B. Rose, president and CEO of the bureau, which serves Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties. "This is what happens with any tragedy. Some people will find a way to make money."
Rose said the local bureau, like bureaus across the country, is receiving calls about questionable products that promise to protect consumers' mail, homes or businesses from anthrax and terrorism.
Walter Duzzny, director of the Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency, said his agency has also received many calls from residents questioning if they should buy certain "protective devices." His answer is no.
Items needed: He said families should stock up on basics that should be on hand for any emergency, including winter storms or power outages, such as water, nonperishable foods, first aid kits and flashlight batteries. Families also should have a plan outlining where members will meet -- at a family or friend's house -- if they cannot get to their own home. Outside those precautions, Duzzny said, families need little else.
He cautioned consumers against buying home chemical screening kits or protective masks. "If the threat level in this community warrants the issuance of such items, ... we will get that information out," he said.
Locally, Rose said, many consumers are being contacted via the Internet, with e-mails offering any number of products. Other means of advertising questionable products include cable television and radio and the back sections of magazines and community newspapers.
Rose said a particular concern are offers for medical products or heath-related items. Such items could harm, instead of help, a purchaser's health. Other offers threaten to empty a consumer's wallet.
"It's important for consumers to buy with their heads, not just on impulse or with fear," Rose said.
Other scams: Some scams reported to Better Business Bureaus across the country include:
U An offer for an anthrax exterminator that sterilizes most surfaces within eight seconds. It costs $99.95.
U An ad for special soap and disinfectant that protects against all virus-based diseases.
U An ad for a home testing kit to detect anthrax bacteria in the air, in water or on surfaces.
U An offer of information on how to tap into the millions in government funding available to those in need after the terrorist attacks. There is a $36 fee.
U Updates on the "Nigerian letter scam." This new letter claims to be from a woman who says her husband was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks leaving her with millions that must be deposited into a U.S.-based bank account. Another version asks the recipient to send a copy of their international passport to receive $470,000.
U Offers for antibiotics from foreign countries.
U Exorbitant price tags on survival kits and survival products such as bottled water, canned food, special fuel or energy generating devices.