(First posted August 14)
WE are less than a week away from the solar eclipse on August 21 (Monday) which will be visible to all of North America. The “path of totality” where the total solar eclipse is visible will stretch through 13 states from Oregon to South Carolina. In the centre of that 112-km wide path, the total eclipse will last from 2 minutes to 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Outside of this path, observers will see a partial eclipse.
Big events also mean big opportunities for scammers and unscrupulous businesses. With a rare event like this, it is important to plan carefully and to trust your instincts. Here are some things to be wary of while you get ready for the eclipse.
Counterfeit Eclipse Glasses
To view the solar eclipse directly without damage to your eyes, you need special solar filter glasses. These are much more powerful than sunglasses. While sunglasses only block about 50% of the sun’s rays, solar filter glasses block more than 99.99%. Unfortunately, many of the solar glasses available online may be counterfeit or do not meet safety specifications. Your best bet is to stick with a brand whose glasses are certified by NASA and the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Here is a list of reputable vendors from AAS.
Here are some additional tips for safe viewing:
- Regular sunglasses, even very dark sunglasses, are not enough.
- Warn children of the danger in viewing the eclipse without protective eyewear.
- Do not look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars, or other optical device.
- Do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer – the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye(s), causing serious injury.
- If the filters on your eclipse glasses are torn, scratched, punctured or coming loose from their cardboard or plastic frames, discard them.
If you are unable to get glasses, one way of indirectly observing the eclipse is by using a pinhole projector. NASA has instructions on how to do this, as well as files to print out and use, here
If you are looking for a place to stay during the eclipse, be careful if you are booking through a site like Airbnb, VRBO, or Craigslist. Make sure to correspond within the website or app and not through other means. Always double check that a listing is on the real website and emails are coming from official addresses. Using a credit card offers the best fraud protection. Don’t deal with anyone who asks for payment outside of the platform’s approved options.
There have been reports of travelers who booked hotels for the eclipse long in advance (before it was widely publicized) only to see their reservations canceled or moved to hotels far from viewing spots. Some of the original rooms are then offered again at a much higher rate. If you are traveling out of town for the eclipse and have a hotel booked, make sure you double-check your reservations before heading out.
Cities across the path of totality are holding eclipse festivals with both free events and VIP viewing parties. Scammers may set up fake events or charge people for access to free public parties. These tips for avoiding summer festival scams can also help you separate real eclipse events from fake ones. NASA has information on many events here.
Traffic will likely be very heavy on any road between a major city and the eclipse path. A bus might sound like great option, but be careful you don’t make a reservation only to end up without transportation. Make sure you deal directly with a bus or limo company to avoid scammers using a legitimate business as a front. Go to BBB.org to look for accredited businesses and read reviews and complaints before you book.
This month’s eclipse may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a rare astronomical event right in your backyard. That urgency and unique opportunity are what can make scams successful. Remember to do your research and always trust your instincts — if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you are the victim of a scam or other unscrupulous business practice related to the eclipse, you can go to BBB.org to open a complaint.