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Tips To Avoid Misinformation, Scams on Social Media

By SHELLEY

HANSON

Staff Writer

In the age of online communication it is easy to run into information that appears to be legitimate, but with large amounts of misinformation being spread these days one should be careful about what they consume.

For example, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic officials have struggled to educate people on the virus while scientists were learning more about it every day.

Jessica Gibson, health educator for the Belmont County Health Department, said the sources the health department relies on to help educate people are the same ones the public should use.

“We do a lot of posts for our Facebook page, and we try and stick with the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website, the Ohio Department of Health … and World Health Organization,” Gibson said.

Gibson recommends using reputable sources and not just random information shared by people who may not have done their research.

Gibson noted, however, she does believe it could be helpful if more people who have contracted the virus would share their real experiences with it. Some people have only had mild symptoms, while others have had to deal with nausea and vomiting and harsher symptoms.

While many have recovered, 400,000 people in the United States have died from the disease.

If more people talked about their experiences with it, there may be less of a stigma attached to it, she believes.

“Even when I call people they are kind of shy about talking about it,” she said of her health department duty to contact people. “Yes, there are people who get over it. People need to talk about their real-life experiences so we’re not just getting what Dr. (Anthony) Fauci puts out about it.”

Gibson noted the ODH’s and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s guidelines regarding COVID can change quickly. Local health departments get the information at the same time the public receives it. This can be frustrating for health officials and the public.

“One morning I just talked to people and had to tell them they couldn’t have their reception, and at 2 p.m. the governor announced so many people were now allowed,” she said, adding it felt like she “ruined” the couple’s lives and others in similar situations.

“We don’t want to take anything away from people, but we have to follow the guidelines,” she added.

Misinformation online and on social media can also come in the form of scams — people trying to steal money or personal information by posing as a legitimate company, a potential new friend or even a romantic interest, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Scammers will often create fake profiles in an attempt to contact people. Sometimes they will “hack,” or illegally gain access to, a real person’s account in order to contact that person’s friends.

According to the FTC, one should be aware of social media scammers and how not to become a target. For example, one should consider scaling back how much information one shares publicly, and also check one’s privacy settings to make sure information is only shared with friends.

Another possible sign a friend’s account is hacked is if that person sends a request for money out of the blue. Sometimes a money scam can also be disguised as a grant opportunity. If the request seems off, it is better to directly contact or call the person first before making any decisions.

When it comes to buying goods and services online, this old adage likely holds true — “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” The FTC says if a company is unfamiliar to a person, it should be checked out first. The commission recommends typing the company’s name into a search engine and the word “scam” after it.

The FTC notes those who believe they may have been scammed or that someone is trying to scam them can report it online at reportfraud.ftc.gov.

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