Senior Health

1/8/2021 | By Annie Tobey

In times of stress and worry, consumers are even more susceptible to being duped – which scammers know all too well. As coronavirus vaccines have been approved and are being distributed in all 50 states, government officials warn consumers to beware of COVID-19 vaccine scams.

Coronavirus Scams Already on the Loose

Criminal organizations and individuals began exploiting the public’s concern about the coronavirus pandemic immediately after the health scare began.

“[Homeland Security Investigations] has analyzed over 60,000 websites that are or are suspected to be involved in some sort of COVID-19-related fraud,” Steve Francis, director at HSI told The Associated Press. “Homeland Security Investigations launched Operation Stolen Promise in April of this year to combat the threats and fraud relating to COVID-19 pandemic, essentially looking at all the illicit products coming into the United States that were either counterfeit, fraudulent, substandard, that related to personal protective equipment, medical gowns, antiviral products, [and] counterfeit and hazardous pharmaceuticals that were entering the U.S. supply chain.”

The FDA said in a statement that its agency “is particularly concerned that these deceptive and misleading products might cause Americans to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment, leading to serious and life-threatening harm.”

COVID-19 Vaccine Scams

And now, these unscrupulous scammers have another type of product to market falsely to worried consumers.

Said Francis, “We have not seen any incidents of any vaccination fraud or treatment fraud; however, we want to make sure that we’re working very closely with the pharmaceutical companies to ensure and protect that supply chain and to ensure that the American public are safe.”

The federal government is working hard to keep scammers at bay. The AP reported that government agents are learning how the vaccine will be packaged and communicating this information to the field. The government is creating a database of information in order to spot fakes and crack down on fraud. And agents are monitoring tens of thousands of websites for evidence of fake cures.

Further, reported the BBB serving Central Virginia, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, through Operation Stolen Promise 2.0, has worked with drug companies developing the vaccine to stop the sale and distribution of phony versions. And the FTC and FDA sent warning letters to seven companies that were making unsupported claims that their products can treat or prevent the virus.

Your Turn

But it’s important that the public be alert and exercise caution as well.

“Even though these vaccines are to meet a critical healthcare crisis, including life and death concerns, sadly it won’t deter scammers and thieves from doing evil to the innocent, so consumers must remain ever vigilant,” said Barry N. Moore, president and CEO of the BBB serving Central Virginia.

Watch out for everything from phony vaccines and treatments to phishing messages attempting to trick you into sharing passwords and personal information, advised Central Virginia BBB in a statement. The BBB also noted an increase in scams using robocalls to impersonate government officials.

To help consumers avoid falling victim, the Department of Homeland Security recommends:

  • Always consult a licensed medical professional to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment.
  • Make sure your doctor has been approved to administer the vaccine.
  • Do not buy COVID-19 vaccines or treatments over the internet.
  • Do not buy COVID-19 vaccines or treatments through an online pharmacy.
  • Ignore large, unsolicited offers for vaccinations and miracle treatments or cures.
  • Don’t respond to text messages, emails, or calls about vaccines and treatments.
  • Be wary of ads for vaccines and treatments on social media.

Further, recommends the BBB, double check information about a vaccine with credible news sources. If you don’t have a primary care physician to consult with, check with your local health department for more information. And ignore calls for immediate action: scammers are most successful when targets act before thinking, so don’t let a sense of urgency to get the vaccine cloud your judgment.

See infographic below for recommendations from the Federal Trade Commission.

Infographic for COVID-19 vaccine scams

“The best advice I have is to consult with your medical professional prior to taking any treatments or vaccinations; and, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” advised Francis.

Trusted sources for coronavirus information include the CDC, FDA, and NIH.

If you spot a COVID-19 vaccine scam, you can report it to the FTC, the DHS at covid19investigations@dhs.gov, and the BBB Scam Tracker.

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey