Beware of COVID Vaccine Scams

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay reporter

THURSDAY, March 11, 2021 (HealthDay News) – A woman chatting on the dating app Bumble recently struck up a conversation with a seemingly nice guy who got them to text each other.

“He told her he was going to get the COVID shot. She expressed interest, and he told her that she should pay him and that he could make a place for her in the line,” Amy said. Nofziger, director of victim support for the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

Instead, the woman reported the scam to fraud experts, who said they had heard of a number of similar programs linked to the COVID-19 vaccination effort in the United States.

The intense demand for COVID vaccines in the United States, combined with confusion over how to register, has created an opportunity for crooks to defraud trusted people with hard-earned money and personal information.

“We know crooks follow the headlines, and they’re just going to take whatever is opportune,” said Colleen Tressler, senior project manager in the Consumer and Business Education Division of the Federal Trade Commission. the United States.

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Signs of potential scams include:

  • Being asked to pay to be vaccinated.
  • Charge a fee to quickly access a vaccine or to add a person’s name to a vaccine waiting list.
  • Offers from traders to sell or ship doses of vaccine for payment.
  • Receive advertisements for vaccines via social media platforms.
  • Claims for approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration for a vaccine or treatment that you have never heard of.

“It doesn’t cost anything,” Tressler said, stressing that the vaccine is free for all Americans. “You don’t pay to sign up for the COVID vaccine, so anyone who contacts you and asks for payment to put you on a list, make an appointment for you, or reserve a spot online is a con artist.”

In general, experts suggest that you be on your guard against any vaccine offers from unsolicited or unknown sources via email, phone calls, or text messages.

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“Scammers can also call people and come up with things like a COVID-19 kit or a coronavirus package, which really doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a pitch,” Tressler said.

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People should be especially worried if someone has made them an offer and demanded immediate payment, especially if they ask for an unusual payment method, Nofziger said.

“Criminals generally ask for payment methods that are not traceable and almost immediate,” Nofziger said. These can include prepaid gift cards from Amazon or other sites, bitcoin or any cryptocurrency, peer-to-peer cash transfer apps such as Venmo or PayPal, and wire transfers. .

“No legitimate vaccine supplier will ask for payment or even an administrative fee with a store-branded prepaid gift card,” Nofziger said.

Another red flag is an unsolicited call to look up personal information such as your Social Security number, Medicare number or bank account information, Tressler said.

“If people get a call from someone claiming to be associated with Medicare and they ask for that information, we really encourage people to hang up because it’s not a Medicare call,” Tressler said. “He is a scammer looking for this personal information to use it to commit fraud, such as identity theft.”

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Also be concerned if the person is urging you to act immediately.

“If there seems to be a sense of urgency, just take a step back,” Tressler said. Before you act, discuss what you have been told with other people – your doctor or pharmacist, an elected official, or maybe even your family or friends.

The best defense for those who are very interested in a COVID-19 vaccine is to be proactive, calling on healthcare providers, public health departments and other trusted sources themselves to sign up. to their vaccines, experts said.

This way, you don’t rely on a mysterious call or text from an unknown source to sign up for your COVID vaccine.

Even here, however, there could be concerns that legitimate providers might ask for your Social Security number or Medicare number, so that they can be reimbursed for administrative costs related to the vaccine, Nofziger said.

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It’s okay to ask the person why they need this information, and even call an anti-fraud hotline to make sure the request is legitimate, Tressler and Nofziger said.

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“If they call a trusted source, it’s okay to ask that question, and if they get a responsible answer, they can move on,” Tressler said.

Anyone who suspects they have been the victim of COVID-19 vaccine fraud should call or contact one or more of the following:

  • The FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI.
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services at 1-800-HHS-TIPS.
  • The Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
  • The AARP Fraud Watch Network at 1-877-908-3360.

More information

The United States Federal Trade Commission is more concerned with avoiding COVID-19 scams.

SOURCES: Amy Nofziger, director, victim assistance, AARP Fraud Watch Network; Colleen Tressler, Senior Project Manager, United States Federal Trade Commission Consumer and Business Education Division

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