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$50 for paper towels? Beware these Craigslist deals that play on COVID-19 panic

Sellers on Craigslist are offering paper towels 'that can be used as toilet paper' and masks that may or may not be out of date
Some people have taken to Craigslist to cash in on COVID-19 fears. Here a Coquitlam seller advertises a six-pack of paper towels for $50. (via Craigslist/Screenshot)

As people across B.C. prepare for the potential of community transmission of COVID-19, some have taken to preying on the fears of a pending pandemic.

And nowhere have those fears taken a more absurd turn than on Craigslist, the online classified advertising service. 

In one post Tuesday, March 3, a Coquitlam seller posted a photo of a store-brand six-pack of paper towels, claiming it “can be used as toilet paper in a pinch” and saying it is “guaranteed to be free of Covid-19 contamination.”

The price: $50. 

Others have weaved the story of stalled factories in China as a marketing tool to sell products.

Someone in Port Coquitlam has listed five outboard engines ranging from $1,495 to $7,730, each with a note about how COVID-19 has made them a limited item.

“The factory has been closed since January due to the COVID-19 virus and no more motors will be available for Canada this season,” wrote the seller in a post. “When these are gone, that's it until the fall.”

N95 face masks have popped up on the Vancouver Craigslist site more than any other product related to the COVID-19 virus. The masks get its name from the 95 per cent of particles it filters out that are greater than 0.3 microns.

N95 masks are said to protect against the virus but health officials do not recommend them for healthy individuals, instead suggesting they be reserved for health-care professionals or people who are sick and want to prevent the spread of the virus.

But while some people attempt to prey on peoples’ fears, others have taken to the classifieds website to post warnings of unscrupulous sellers and provide detailed information on what to look out for.

“I am a health-care worker in Vancouver buying masks on CL,” begins one poster, referring to Craigslist, who goes on to inform people that someone had sold them N95 masks with the expiration date removed, and that the masks were more than 15 years old. 

“My coworker also met another who had fake expiration stickers. They made them with a ‘price tag’ roll gun,” reads the post. “DO NOT PURCHASE any masks they do not come in original packaging or are missing the expiration date.”

Canadian public officials and health agencies have also taken to online platforms in an attempt to allay public fear and the panic buying that has left some Metro Vancouver grocery store shelves bare. 

In a chain of Tweets Tuesday, March 4, Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, reiterated a list of precautions individuals can take to sensibly prepare for a global pandemic, including gradually filling up your cupboard every time you shop with a few extra non-perishable, easy-to-prepare foods like dry pasta, canned soup and beans.