Top officials warn of COVID vaccine scams

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As the long awaited COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna finally begin distribution in the US, top officials in several departments warn of potential vaccine scams. Many of these scams will attempt to convince people to buy the vaccine outright or to pay to be moved up on the list, neither of which is being done by any administering agency.

The mediums that these scams are conducted are quite diverse, federal officials warn. These range from phone calls and text scams to fake websites and advertisements. 

Pfizer vice president and security chief Lev J. Kubiak told AARP that Pfizer noticed criminal organizations were attempting to coax people into purchasing coronavirus vaccines all the way back in spring. 

The increased concern comes as a robo-call in Rochester, New York makes the rounds offering a dose of the Pfizer vaccine without the long lines for $80. Earlier on in the pandemic, there were reports of advertisements for products such as lotion, body spray, and incense that claimed to have the ability to cure COVID-19.

Some crooks have even gone so far as to promote “vaccine tourism,” which offered a vacation with airfare, hotel costs, and a COVID-19 vaccine bundled together. 

Security officials concerned about these scams have reiterated the same point: the only way you can get a coronavirus vaccine is through the vaccination center in your state that is government authorized. 

“If you’re receiving unsolicited offers for a vaccine — not one, not two, but about 10 red flags should go up,” Nenette Day, assistant special agent in charge at the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, told NBC News regarding the emerging cases in COVID-19 fraud. 

“There is no way that you under any circumstance should deal with anybody except a known and reputable medical provider or pharmacy.”

Experts say that text messages, emails, and similar types of scams will attempt to appear as if it were coming from an official government agency, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) being a popular choice.

These messages would try and coax unsuspecting victims into clicking links that would download a virus onto their device, or have a page to fill in sensitive information such as Social Security and credit card numbers for criminals to steal.

When receiving calls or messages regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, here are some things to remember to protect yourself from scams:

Initially, the vaccine will be available in limited quantities, so people should turn to trusted resources — their doctor or local health department — for guidance.

People should not buy any kind of coronavirus vaccine or treatment on the internet or from an online pharmacy. The vaccine is being distributed by the government, and the only way to receive a vaccine is from a government-authorized vaccination center.

Doses of the vaccine that were purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be provided to patients at no cost. However, providers may charge an administration fee, and have that fee reimbursed by private and public insurance companies. There’s also a means of reimbursement for uninsured patients. Any other payments pertaining to the vaccine may indicate a scam.

Consumers should not respond to any solicitations about the vaccine. “Fraudsters are using telemarketing calls, text messages, social media platforms and door-to-door visits to perpetrate COVID-19-related scams,” Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials said in a Dec. 3 fraud advisory.

People should not give cash or any other form of payment to suspicious callers, nor should they divulge personal, medical or financial information, which criminals can use to fraudulently bill federal health care programs and to commit medical identity theft.

Medicare will not call beneficiaries to offer COVID-19 related products, services, or benefit review

Government and State officials will not call you to obtain personal information in order to receive the vaccine, and you will not be solicited door to door to receive the vaccine. Money cannot be used to enhance your ranking for vaccine eligibility.

For more information, visit the HHS COVID-19 scams page at oig.hhs.gov/coronavirus/fraud-alert-covid19.asp