Beware of COVID-19 related rumors! What to watch out for in daily life

Don’t believe everything you hear! – Don’t panic and stay calm-

As COVID-19 spreads around the world fear is spreading along with it, resulting in the spread of random rumors and misleading information. There are also criminals who are taking advantage of this social confusion to commit fraud. 

Here are some key points to keep in mind in day to day life so that we can prevent people from blindly believing everything they see or hear, and then acting irresponsibly and spreading rumors. 

① Toilet paper will not run out due to COVID-19

There was a widespread rumor on the internet stating that there would be a shortage of toilet paper due to the pandemic. This is not true. 

According to the announcement released by “Nihon Kateishi Kogyokai” (“Japan Household Paper Products Industry Association”), 98% of all toilet paper consumed in Japan are manufactured domestically, and there are enough supply capacity and ample stocks. Also, approximately 16 is the average number of toilet paper rolls used by a family of four per month. 

If we buy more than we need, we will not be able to buy any when we really need them. Please do not worry, and keep in mind that there’s enough stocks. Let’s shop calmly. Also, when shopping, please listen to the clerks’ instructions and abide by rules such as the one-per-customer rule.  

② There will be no food shortages

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced as follows regarding the supply of food:

“We have procured a sufficient supply of food. 
Food supply chains remain intact and are still in place.
There are also sufficient stocks of rice and flour. There is no delay in imports either.”

Try to buy only what you need, and do not hoard or rush to buy food. Also, do not purchase for resale purposes. 

③ Public administrations do not ask you to deposit any transaction fees or to use an ATM when receiving any benefits

For those of you who hold a Certificate of Residence, you are eligible for the the 100,000-yen government cash handouts  (特別定額給付金; tokubetsu teigaku kyufu-kin). Many cases of suspicious emails and phone calls regarding this benefit have been reported. There have been cases where people have actually been tricked into paying money. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications(MIC), who is in charge of the benefit, has been alerting the public as follows:

  • Neither MIC nor local governments will ever ask you to use the ATM
  • Neither MIC nor local governments will ever demand fees when granting the benefits
  • For now, neither MIC nor local governments ask for personal information such as household members or your bank account number via telephone, mail or email

If you are contacted and asked to “Use the ATM” or “Pay transaction fees” or “Give personal information”, make sure to talk to your family or the police about it. You can also contact the call center. 

COVID-19 benefits-related consumer hotline: 0120-213-188 

④ Beware of surprise parcel with unsolicited goods, such as masks. You must not pay for them

As the novel coronavirus spreads, masks are running out and more people are shopping online. There are some who take advantage of this situation to commit malicious fraud where they send products that have not been ordered or bought to people’s doors, and demand payment. 

A possible scenario: You receive an envelope with 30 disposable masks in the mail. No one in your family remembers buying any. The bill for face masks is not enclosed. You are not sure what to do with it.

If something like this happens, remember to first of all stay calm. If you did not get a phone call from the company (a.k.a. Who sell products) before the product arrived at your door, it means the contract is not valid. Therefore you must not pay for it. Also, even if you do get a phone call, unless you have agreed to a contract stating that you are buying the product, the contract is not valid. Therefore again, you must not pay for it. In 14 days after you receive the unexpected product, you are allowed to throw it away. 

If something doesn’t feel right or if something is worrying you, you can call the consumer hotline 188 for help. 

⑤ Beware of phishing emails disguised as mask sales and surveys regarding the spread of the novel coronavirus

A phishing website is a fake website designed to look legitimate and used to steal personal information. There have been many cases where people have received emails and texts on topics related to the shortage of masks and the benefits, such as  “Masks on sale/ Free masks” or “Information on benefits”. When you access the URL embedded in these emails, you will be redirected to phishing websites that look just like the actual shopping websites or inquiry forms. From there, personal information such as your name, address and your credit/cash card numbers are stolen. 

Please be aware of the following points to make sure that you are not deceived by these fake emails.

  • Do not rashly click on website links embedded in texts and emails 
  • Check official organizations and official websites, and try to gain information from there
  • For websites that you access often, bookmark or save them to your list of favorites, and access them from there

⑥ Beware of suspicious phone calls and home visitors

There have been COVID-19 related rumors, confirmed cases of scams and crimes. Examples include: 

  • Door-to-door sales of expensive masks and disinfectants
  • Calls from people who claim to be plumbers telling you that traces of the virus was found on the pipeline, and that it costs money to disinfect it

If you have suspicions or concerns, always get in touch with the nearest police station or the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department General Advisory Center (#9110). 

Don’t be swayed by rumors, and let’s act calmly!

Everyone is scared. However, let us all try to deal with the confusing information and malicious rumors in a mature manner, and try to act calmly. 

If there is anything you are unsure about, make sure to talk to your family and the police, and contact call centers.