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Coronavirus

This COVID vaccine scam is particularly nasty – signs to watch for

The COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts are being ramped up and will soon be in full swing. There are millions of Americans waiting for an opportunity to get vaccinated against the virus.

The current phase of the roll-out is prioritizing high risk and older adults who are at greater risk of severe complications from COVID. That can be frustrating for people who want to protect themselves against the virus, and the high demand for the vaccine is causing other issues, too.

COVID-related scams have been running rampant since the start of the pandemic. And the Better Business Bureau is warning of yet another scam that’s gone viral. This one involves the vaccine. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself against scammers using the COVID vaccine as a way to target victims.

Here’s the backstory

According to the Better Business Bureau, there have been several recent reports from people being targeted by cybercriminals using the COVID-19 vaccine to steal money or information. Thieves have been using everything from vaccine-related phishing attempts to phony promises of access to vaccines after making payments to guarantee your spot.

To pull the scams off, the criminals are making calls, sending social media messages or blasting out emails that tell recipients they’re eligible to get the vaccine. These messages are often sent under the guise of being from a friend, a public health official or even someone from a local hospital or clinic.

There’s a catch with these types of communications, though. While victims are told they’re eligible, they’re also told it’s conditional based on meeting some metric, whether it’s forking over personal information or making payment upfront to hold your spot in line.

The BBB notes that one reported case involved a phony caller who claimed that they needed the victim’s Medicare number and home address to process their place in line.

“I gave [the scammer] my Medicare number and confirmed my name and address,” the victim reported. “He said he was going to come out to my house to administer the [COVID-19] test, and then the vaccine but he never showed.”

Another report noted that the scammer was impersonating someone else on social media and was contacting their “friends” to claim that if paid, they can “guarantee… the vaccine ASAP.” Another version of this scam involves crooks offering vaccine shots for as low as $150. These promises were made on apps and through email. 

Why does it matter to you?

If you’re one of the people waiting for the vaccine, you need to be aware that scammers use the desire for access to scam people out of money or personal information. You may even receive a phone call or message stating that you are next in line.

It’s important to avoid falling for this type of scam. It could cost you a few hundred dollars in lost money, or worse, by putting you at risk of being taken for a ride in other ways. If you hand over access to your Medicare information or your personal information, it could be used to commit identity theft and other crimes.

You don’t want to risk your identity or bank account to get access to a vaccine. That’s precisely what will happen if you take the scammers’ messages at face value, though.

What can you do about it?

To avoid being taken for a ride by scammers using the COVID-19 vaccine as bait, you should:

  • Know the distribution process in your area. Each area handles the vaccine schedule differently, so be sure to check with your local government or health department for information on how it’s being handled in your area. If you know this information, it will better prepare you to avoid being scammed. 
  • Do your research. Don’t take these types of communications at face value. If you’re contacted with an offer for a vaccination that lets you skip the line in your area, you might want to double-check that it’s legit. Don’t hand over money to anyone asking for it in an unsolicited message or call, and be skeptical of anything that seems too good – or crazy – to be true.
  • Don’t hand out your government-issued information. If an unsolicited caller is asking you for your personal information, don’t give it to them. Information on your Medicare ID, Social Security number, health plan or banking info should be guarded and only given to trustworthy health professionals in an appropriate setting — never over the phone or via Facebook.
  • Check the URL. If you receive an email or message asking you to click a link, make sure you check into it before you do. It’s easy for scammers to use similar but different URLs or email addresses to trick the eye. Make sure that any government contact information ends in .gov, and always check the website directly rather than clicking on the link.

Bottom line

If you’re anxious to get a hold of the vaccine, there are plenty of ways to go about it. You can ask around about waiting lists, contact your local health department or even use the Google Maps tool about to roll out. This tool will display locations that offer Covid-19 vaccinations, making it easy to find out legitimate, useful information on vaccinations in your area.

Whatever you do, don’t give information or money to someone on the phone or via email. Do your homework on any calls or texts you receive, and make sure you’ve armed yourself with the right information on vaccinations in your area. Otherwise, you could become a victim of a crime that’s not so easy to recover from.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, advice, or health objectives.

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