The coronavirus has infected 93,040,712 people around the world, resulting in the death of 1,992,794, as of this writing. In the U.S. alone, there have been 23,648,532 COVID-19 cases and over 400,000 deaths. These staggering statistics have made people desperate for a vaccine. The vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna have been rushing to deliver a viable vaccine to help prevent more cases of the deadly COVID-19 disease, and with FDA approval some vaccinations are now starting. However, the combination of a vaccine that will soon be available and people’s desperation to get a hold of it create a perfect storm for fraudsters.
Fraudsters exploit vulnerabilities and, sadly, fraudsters do not draw a line at the fear of death or serious illness. They create scams to try to get people to pay for a vaccine that doesn’t exist or hand over personal information that they use to steal the victims’ identities. The number of vaccine scams has increased significantly since COVID-19. Here is what you need to know about vaccine fraud and how you can protect yourself.
Vaccine Scams to Look Out For
Some of the scams that regulators caution consumers against include:
- Promising fake cures
- Asking consumers to join fake clinical trials for a fee
- Sending fake at-home testing kits
- Delivering fake vaccines
- Selling spoiled vaccines
- Obtaining used vaccine vials to give or sell to victims
- Calling consumers and saying they can skip the line by paying a fee
With vaccinations now occurring, fraudsters are increasing their attempts to scam consumers.
Potential Consequences of Falling for a Vaccine Scam
If a person falls victim to a vaccine scam, there may be significant consequences, including:
If you take a vaccine that is not a COVID-19 vaccine, you could be putting your health in jeopardy. These products likely have not undergone rigorous testing or clinical trials, so you may be facing grave health consequences if you take these products. You may experience side effects with the unregulated vaccine, or you could even wind up infecting yourself with another disease. People who believe they received a legitimate vaccine are also more likely to engage in riskier behaviors that can actually make them more susceptible to getting COVID-19.
In some situations, scammers perpetrate these scams in order to get consumers’ private information, such as their Social Security numbers. They use this information to steal victims’ identities. You can learn more on Social Security number theft at idstrong.com/ssn-theft/.
Loss of Funds
Consumers may lose a significant amount of money by paying for fake cures or vaccines. This is especially troubling for people who have lost their jobs or faced other economic consequences due to the pandemic.
Signs of a Vaccine Scam
Federal regulators including the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are warning consumers about possible vaccine scams. They caution consumers about the following signs that they may be targeted for a vaccine scam if they:
- Receive unsolicited phone calls or emails about a vaccine
- Are told that they can pay to improve their position on the list for who will receive the vaccine first
- Are asked to pay for early access to the vaccine
- Receive phone calls from a purported health care facility, vaccine distribution center or insurance company that asks for the victim’s bank account, credit card or Social Security number
- See ads about products that claim to treat a wide variety of diseases
- See ads about vaccines that are available to be used right now
- Read information about supposed “miracle cures”
How to Protect Yourself from Vaccine Scams
Protect yourself from possible vaccine scams by following these tips:
- Understand the process for obtaining the vaccine – Even though the vaccine may be available in the United States, there will be a step-by-step process involved in obtaining it. It will first be available in limited quantities, and some people will have greater priority for receiving it, such as front-line health care workers. Most people will not be eligible to receive the vaccine until the summer.
- Watch out for common scam practices – Don’t engage with anyone who offers any of the promises outlined above. You can’t pay for early access to the vaccine or to move your name up the list. Also, avoid any offers that try to create a sense of urgency, make promises that are too good to be true or contact you unsolicited. No legitimate vaccine transaction will require upfront payment or ask for your personal information over the phone.
- Protect your cybersecurity – Avoid common points of infiltration for scammers by not clicking on suspicious emails, responding to strangers on your computer or responding to unsolicited offers.
- Sign up for alerts – The Federal Trade Commission allows you to subscribe to consumer alerts so that you can learn about new vaccine scams in the pipeline.
- Obtain a vaccine only from a medical professional – Avoid accepting any vaccine from a person who shows up at your doorstep and instead only receive a vaccine from a licensed medical professional.
Scammers are more prevalent during times of crisis, so it is important to be vigilant to protect yourself. Use the tips above to avoid vaccine scams.