Scam artists try to cash in on anthrax scare

| 11/1/2001

For the modest price of $99.95, the Anthrax Exterminator promises to zap invisible anthrax spores on surfaces you may contact. "No more worries about anthrax lurking invisibly on mail or other surfaces you come in contact with every day at work, home or when going out in public," a promotional e-mail for the product reads.

But medical and consumer experts say the only thing that products like the Anthrax Exterminator are absolutely guaranteed to clean out is your wallet, The Beacon Journal wrote after speaking to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The handheld, battery-operated unit looks similar to a flashlight and ``allows people to easily zap anthrax and sterilize surfaces such as your mailbox, the mail itself, desks, counters at home or in the workplace as well as thousands of other surfaces. The Anthrax Exterminator uses "ultraviolet C wave - the germicidal method recommended by the Centers for Disease Control,'' the e-mail says. But Anthrax Exterminator differs from the high-tech, multimillion-dollar irradiation systems the U.S. Postal Service is using to treat mail. The Postal Service uses irradiation systems with gamma waves generated from a radioactive source, electron beams or X-rays.

"The CDC is not endorsing this or any product," explained CDC spokeswoman Mary Kay Sones. "Scam artists often try to make a quick buck off the fear of the moment." Still, that's not stopping some opportunistic entrepreneurs from trying to capitalize on public fear by peddling anthrax eradicators particularly over the Internet, according to the Journal. The company with the alleged "remedy," KR Research Inc., is promoting the Anthrax Exterminator through unsolicited e-mails and its web site. On Monday, authorities were alerted, including the postal inspector, to the possible scam. A phone number listed in a Reno, NV, directory for the company was disconnected and e-mail sent to the company was returned as undeliverable.

Steve Salter, director of online operations for the Better Business Bureau, said the web site concerns him because it is nonsecured. "The likelihood of you losing control of that credit card number is more dangerous,'' he said. Consumers should not respond to unsolicited e-mail advertisements Salter said. "Just delete them."