The spread of the Zika virus in the United States is causing real fear among some Americans, and with that can come vulnerability to scammers.

The Rockford Better Business Bureau is joining other agencies in warning consumers to guard themselves against worthless Zika products and scams.

Currently, the Illinois State Health Department is reporting 46 cases of Zika statewide, with 8 of those reported to be pregnant women, significant because Zika can cause birth defects. 

Zika is spread by infected mosquitoes which are not present in Illinois because our climate is too cold for them.  The U.S. has issued travel alerts for parts of South America and a community in the Miami area where infection by mosquitoes has been reported.

One of the scams officials point to with regard to Zika are the promotion of products which claim to protect against it.  Dennis Horton, Director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau, says that “These products are being marketed as being “Zika protective” or “Zika preventative”, the problem is they don’t work.”

Another scam involves phony investments related to the Zika scare.  Horton says that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued a warning to investors  to be on the lookout for companies that claim to be developing products or services relating to the Zika virus.  These scams might include “pump-and-dump” schemes, in which con artists pump up a stock price with false rumors and then dump their shares before the stock drops again.

He also suggests people steer clear of unsolicited investment offers and investments pushed by unregistered people or firms.

Even seemingly innocent e-mails purporting to have information about Zika may be malicious.  According to a report from Symantec, malicious spam email originally originating in Brazil claims to come from health and wellness sites with a message purporting to have information about fighting the virus. Now that the virus has been identified in several states in the U.S. scammers are expected to begin trying similar tactics here.

If it’s unsolicited and appears to be SPAM, Horton suggests people just delete it.

People traveling to areas where Zika mosquitoes may be active do have legitimate ways to protect themselves the BBB says,  including using insect repellents that contain DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists several brand names on its website, which you can access here.

Health officials say the concern here isn’t Zika but rather West Nile virus, and people can take common-sense steps to avoid it including wearing long-sleeved clothing when mosquitoes are most active, especially at dawn and dusk, and removing areas of standing water where they may breed around your home.