COVID-19 Vaccine Scams & What You Can Do About Them

Reading Time: 2 minutes

These are very exciting times as we begin to see vaccine administered across the country. It is also the perfect time for scammers to take advantage of individuals who may be feeling particularly vulnerable after months of COVID-19-related anxiety or fatigue.

Right before the holidays, a warning was sent out to the American public about several emerging fraud schemes related to COVID-19 vaccines. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have received complaints of scammers using the public’s interest in COVID-19 vaccines to obtain personally identifiable information and money through various schemes.

So how can you keep yourself and your loved ones safe from scammers? The FBI has provided a helpful list of things to look out for as you are navigating the vaccination process.

What should you look out for?

Any of the following could be an indicator of potential fraud:

  • Advertisements or offers for early access to a vaccine upon payment of a deposit or fee.
  • Requests to pay out of pocket to obtain the vaccine or to put your name on a COVID-19 vaccine waiting list.
  • 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 of a deposit or fee.
  • Unsolicited emails, telephone calls or personal contact from someone claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company or COVID-19 vaccine center and requesting personal and/or medical information to determine eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or obtain the vaccine.
  • Claims of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a vaccine that cannot be verified.
  • Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, emails, telephone calls, online or from unsolicited/unknown sources.
  • Individuals contacting you in person, by phone or by email to tell you that government officials require you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Where should you go for credible information?

If you have questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, Skagit County Public Health has two easy ways to get information.

  1. Visit our COVID-19 Vaccine webpage at: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine
  2. Call our new COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500. The hotline is available in English or Spanish, and operates Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

What else can you do?

  • Check the FDA’s website for current information about vaccine emergency use authorizations.
  • Consult your primary care physician before having any vaccination.
  • Don’t share your personal or health information with anyone other than known, trusted medical professionals.
  • Check your medical bills and insurance explanation of benefits (EOBs) for suspicious claims, and promptly report errors to your health insurance provider.
  • Follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other trusted medical professionals.

What should you do if you suspect a scam?

If you believe you have been the victim of a COVID-19 fraud, immediately report it to the FBI (ic3.govtips.fbi.gov, or 1-800-CALL-FBI) or HHS OIG (tips.hhs.gov or 1-800-HHS-TIPS).


Scammers, Spammers, and Crooks!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Tips to protect yourself from criminals exploiting COVID-19

Criminals exploit; that is what they do best. It’s only 11 AM on Monday, and I have already received three unsolicited text messages from scammers telling me how I can receive a “free coronavirus test kit,” that I’m “eligible for an phone upgrade due COVID-19,” or that I need to “hurry up” before I “miss out” on what is ultimately a bogus coronavirus-related product. In my email, there are 11 similar messages. These text messages, emails and similar scam posts on social media sites can cost you lots of money, perhaps even your life savings! Today, we will focus on how you can protect yourself from the scammers, spammers and crooks hiding behind COVID-19.

HOW SCAMS WORK

Scams work for many reasons, but here are a few of the most common.

Scammers feed on fear and anxiety

Local, state and federal health officials are telling us to “stay home” to “stay safe.” A virus we cannot see with the naked eye is all around the community, threatening our health and our livelihoods. People are scared and worried. Scammers know this!

Scammers target senior adults

Scammers, spammers and crooks like to target seniors. The bad guys assume that senior adults are less tech savvy, have a “nest egg” or ample home equity to draw on, are lonely and easy to engage in scams. Scammers also know that seniors are less likely to report to law enforcement if they have been scammed.

Scammers pray on people who want to donate money

Some charitable organizations won’t make it through this crisis; they are relying on people to make donations to keep them afloat. Scammers are very skilled in writing emails and texts to try and convince us they are from an agency serving those in great need. They try to pull on your heartstrings and your wallet!

Scammers take advantage of opportunities wherever they see them!

Whether it’s trolling the obituary pages to target broken-hearted life insurance beneficiaries, stealing your identity to file a false unemployment claim, or price gouging, scammers and crooks see COVID-19 as an opportunity to strike.

WHAT SCAMMERS WANT

Ultimately, scammers want your money, but they probably won’t come right out and say that! The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) identifies three pieces of information scammers use to gain access to your finances. Protect this information well!

  • Passwords (email, bank, credit cards, online accounts of any kind)
  • Social Security numbers (yours, your spouse’s, your child’s, your parents’)
  • Account numbers (whether you access your account online or only via snail mail or phone)

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

The best way for you stay protected is to consult trusted sources and stay vigilant. If you think you’ve accidentally taken the bait, report it!

From the Federal Trade Commission

ftc.gov/complaint

Not sure you can recognize these scams? The FTC and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) have teamed up to offer brief video examples to help you avoid these common scams.

From the Food and Drug Administration

From the Internal Revenue Service

Taxpayers should be on the lookout for IRS impersonation calls, texts and email phishing attempts about the coronavirus or COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments. These scams can lead to tax-related fraud and identity theft.

Here’s what taxpayers should know:

  • The IRS will not call, email or text you to verify or request your financial, banking or personal information.
  • Watch out for websites and social media attempts to request money or personal information. The official website is IRS.gov.
  • Don’t open surprise emails that look like they’re coming from the IRS or click on attachments or links.
  • Taxpayers should not provide personal or financial information or engage with potential scammers online or over the phone.
  • Forward suspicious emails to phishing@irs.gov, then delete.
  • Go to IRS.gov for the most up-to-date information.

From the Social Security Administration

Be on the lookout for fake calls and emails

Scammers are pretending to be government employees. They may threaten you and may demand immediate payment to avoid arrest or other legal action. Do not be fooled!

A screenshot of a social media post

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SSA.GOV

From the State of Washington

  • The WA State Employment Security Department (ESD) is seeing an increase in fraudulent unemployment claims. There have been several false claims in Skagit County already. In these scenarios, the crooks have made claims for unemployment using the name of someone else employed in Washington State. If you have reason to believe someone has applied for unemployment benefits using your information or used a scam to obtain your private information, please report it to the ESD immediately!
  • The Office of the Attorney General – Attorney General Bob Ferguson has launched an awareness campaign encouraging Washingtonians to report price gouging in three easy steps: “See It, Snap It, Send It.”
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www.atg.wa.gov

From the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)

From Norton & McAfee (antivirus protection)

BOTTOM LINE

Scammers, spammers and crooks see COVID-19 as an opportunity to swindle you. By being informed and staying vigilant, you will be better able to defend yourself from falling victim.

If you think you’ve already been duped, you will need to report it. Gather emails, receipts and phone numbers so you’re prepared to complete your report. If the agency you need to report to is not listed above, you can also report to your local law enforcement office, or report to your state consumer protection agency. USA.gov has a great resource page to help you locate state consumer protection resources. The Washington State page can be found here.

Stay informed. Stay vigilant. Report it.