The recent emergency approval and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines have provided much-needed hope throughout the world. While drug companies, government, and healthcare organizations rush to get the masses vaccinated, unfortunately, but not surprisingly a new threat has developed – COVID-19 related scams. According to FBI Financial Crimes Section Chief Steven Merrill, “We’ve been concerned about fraud schemes regarding the vaccine as soon as the vaccine went from an idea to reality. The one thing that we’ve learned throughout this pandemic is that when there’s money to be made, criminals will figure out how to do it.” These sophisticated scams take many shapes and target the victim’s identity as well as their wallet. Read on to learn more about the top COVID-19 vaccine-related scams and how to protect yourself from becoming a victim.
Vaccine List Scam:
According to the Federal Trade Commission’s advice on avoiding COVID-19 scams, you cannot pay to put your name on the waitlist to get a vaccine. Vaccine distribution has been left to state government health organizations to distribute following the CDC’s phased rollout plan. While states and even counties might be rolling out vaccines at different rates, no one has to pay to be on a waitlist. Another similar scam is the offer to “jump the line”. Americans must wait their turn while healthcare workers, first responders, and those at the greatest risk for disease due to age and health are given priority. If you receive a call, email, or text asking for money in exchange for a vaccine or to get ahead in line, do not respond. For information on when you are eligible for a vaccine, instead, contact your state’s public health department.
The Notification Scam:
These are tricky ones! You might legitimately be contacted by your health department due to contact tracing. Health organizations also might contact you to notify you that your turn is up for a vaccine or as a reminder to get your second shot. These calls should only be made if you previously registered with your health department for notifications or if you’ve been vaccinated. These messages could come through emails, phone calls, or text. So how can you tell when it’s a scam? It’s pretty simple actually. The health department will ask for health information only, and never request information such as your social security number, bank account number, or insurance information. We like to say, “when in doubt, opt-out.” Don’t feel like you have to give someone information you are uncomfortable or unsure of giving, even when it is a legitimate call. Ask if there is another way to deliver the information rather than by phone or email, which will give you the opportunity to make sure you are delivering the information to the correct organization. Also remember that scammers are very good at caller ID spoofing, which is the practice of changing caller ID information to appear that it’s coming from a real health organization. If you question the legitimacy of a message, hang up, look up your local health department number, and call back.
The Co-pay Scam:
Criminals might ask for an insurance co-pay in advance of a vaccine. According to the CDC, vaccines are being purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars and provided to Americans for free. It’s possible that healthcare providers and administrators might ask for a fee to give a shot, so in order to avoid being scammed, do not pay for a vaccine upfront. Instead, pay when you receive the vaccine onsite or have the fee submitted through your insurance first. The good news is, no one can be denied a vaccine if they are unable to cover an administration fee.
Social Media Scams:
You’ve probably seen friends on social media proudly showing themselves receiving their shot or holding their COVID-19 vaccination record card from the CDC. While it seems like a good way to spread positive news of the vaccine, unfortunately, you could be putting yourself at risk of identity theft. These cards can contain personally identifiable information such as name, date of birth, patient number, insurance information, and location. Don’t put your identity at risk, allowing bad actors to steal your information to commit fraud. If you’d like to spread the news of your vaccination, most sites are handing out stickers or providing selfie walls to take safe photos.
Whether you in Phase 1 or the last phase of the vaccine rollout, it’s important to always stay aware and prepared for scammers to reach out to you. If you feel like you’ve fallen victim to a COVID-19 related scam, we are here to help. As part of your tnConnect’s IDSafe, you have an Identity Theft Recovery Advocate on standby waiting to help you recover your good name.