After months of confusion and fear, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. The FDA has approved two coronavirus vaccines. Detailed plans to distribute from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna are already underway. The FDA should approve additional vaccines in 2021. Unfortunately, with this big news, vaccine scams aren’t far behind.
Almost as soon as the news of the Pfizer approval hit the headlines, a robocall went out in Rochester, NY. It offered a front place in line for the vaccine at the modest price of just $79.99. Of course, a ring of scammers placed the call. Paying the requested fee will not position individuals to receive the vaccine any sooner.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have all shared reports of additional scams in which criminals exploit the public’s interest in coronavirus vaccines to obtain personally identifiable information and money through various schemes.
Here is all you need to know about coronavirus vaccine scams and how to avoid them:
The vaccine distribution
It is important to learn these facts about vaccine distribution to avoid falling victim to a vaccine scam:
- Initially, vaccine quantities will be very limited. There are also strict protocols about who will be first in line to receive it, such as nursing home residents and health care workers. Exact guidelines vary by state, but you cannot pay or sign up to jump the line.
- Only trusted resources, like doctors or health clinics will distribute the vaccine. It will also not be available on the internet or through an online pharmacy.
- Eligible citizens will be vaccinated at no cost. Health care providers may charge an administration fee, which will be reimbursed through insurance companies, but there will be no upfront cost for insured individuals.
- There is no need to share personal information on the phone, such as your Social Security number or checking account details, to receive the vaccine.
Red flags for vaccine scams
Beware of these signs of COVID-19 vaccine scams:
- Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, e-mail or phone calls from unsolicited sources.
- Offers for early access to the vaccine — for a price.
- Offers to undergo additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining a vaccine.
- Marketers offering to sell and/or ship doses of a vaccine, domestically or internationally, in exchange for payment.
- Unsolicited e-mails or phone calls from someone claiming to represent a medical office, insurance company or COVID-19 vaccine center requesting personal and/or medical information to determine your eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or to help you obtain the vaccine.
- Claims of FDA approval for a vaccine that cannot be verified.
- Individuals contacting you in person, by phone or by e-mail to tell you the government or government officials require you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Stay on high alert when online
Mike Stamas, cofounder of GreyCastle Security in Troy, N.Y., says the pandemic serves as a reminder to the public to adhere to general online safety precautions. This includes using the updated version of your operating system and antivirus and anti-malware software, checking that websites are secure, avoiding clicks and downloads from unsolicited sources, using two-factor authentication and being careful not to share any personal information with unverified contacts.
Be proactive about vaccine scams
Protect yourself from coronavirus vaccine scams! Stay updated with the latest vaccine developments. Check your state’s health department’s website to learn about vaccine distribution in your state and look up general vaccine information at fda.gov.
If you believe you have been targeted by a coronavirus vaccine scam, then report the scam to the FTC at ftc.gov. You can also file a complaint with your state attorney general through consumerresources.org.
Your Turn: If you have been a coronavirus vaccine scam target, then tell us about it in the comments.
If you like what you read, then join our e-mail list!