Vaccine Scams Are Already Happening

Homeland Security agents are already chasing down fake websites
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 19, 2020 12:35 PM CST
Vaccine Scams Are Already Happening
A COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine is prepared at Edward Hospital in Naperville, Ill., Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.   (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

If you're seeing coronavirus vaccine deals, look again: US officials say they're almost certainly scams. Whether by email, phone, or online, scammers are angling to take advantage of our desire for inoculation. "If you're receiving unsolicited offers for a vaccine—not one, not two, but about 10 red flags should go up," an assistant special agent in charge at the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General tells NBC News. "There is no way that you under any circumstance should deal with anybody except a known and reputable medical provider or pharmacy."

  • Phony websites: Homeland Security agents are on the case and taking down apparent scam websites, per the New York Times. Investigators shut down a fake Moderna site Friday, after two similar sites were blocked earlier this year. The fraudsters' goal is to steal people's money and/or personal data while promising a vaccination. Matthew Swenson, a top official at the investigations unit, says elderly people tend to be less "internet savvy" and make for likely targets.

  • Robocalls: Such scams can also arrive as text messages or robocalls in which the scammer poses as a health official or government agency, per WJAR. But "there's no way to skip the line, there's no way to pay more to be one of the first to receive the vaccine," says Paula Fleming of the Better Business Bureau.
  • The BBB's advice: confirm any information with a valued news source, ask your personal doctor, and ignore anyone who wants you to take "immediate action," per CNN. "If they want you to do something quick—in 30 minutes, that's usually the tip-off to the rip-off," a senior BBB official tells ABC 7 Chicago. "The only thing you should do in 30 minutes is buy a pizza."
  • 'Liquid gold': The vaccine scams follow an Interpol warning earlier this month that criminals will likely attempt such frauds and might even try stealing vaccines, the Wall Street Journal reported. The agency called vaccines "liquid gold" and advised law enforcement that crooks "are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains."
  • COVID scams: Coronavirus crime is nothing new. The LA Times reports that the FTC recently reported over 131,000 complaints linked to the pandemic—including phony charities, fake health claims, and mortgage and student loan relief frauds.
  • Web domains: But keeping up with the crooks isn't easy. "The criminals aren't just buying [fake websites] one at a time, two at a time," Swenson tells the New York Times. "They're buying them in groups of 50 or 100. We take down 100 and they go buy 50 or 100 more."
(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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