As distribution of COVID-19 vaccines ramped up throughout 2021, the piggybacking scams were right behind.
After a number of coronavirus-related scams circulated throughout 2020, another round of vaccine-related scams surfaced in 2021—some of which are ongoing. Scammers are relentless, becoming more sophisticated, and have a singular goal to steal your money and personal information.
And that is why we need to put up a shield to prevent any of these new scams from getting through. A good place to start is by following these general rules:
- Never give out personal information.
- Use a variety of strong passwords.
- Verify the legitimacy of a link before clicking on it.
- Don’t overshare on social media.
Below are five common COVID-19 scams currently circulating. They come in the form of unsolicited phone calls, texts, emails, and online advertisements. Social media has become an especially active breeding ground for these vaccine-promising impostors.
“As with all other scams, the motto of COVID-19-themed scams should be, ‘If it's too good to be true, it probably is,’ said Palmer Horst, Information Security Analyst at SELCO. “Multiple vaccines are widely available to the public, and they're free, so trust your intuition on whether it makes sense for an entity to reach out to you unsolicited, especially while asking you for compensation or sensitive personal information.”
Pay to ‘cut the line’
If you receive an offer for an early COVID-19 vaccine in exchange for a fee, ignore it. When your name is called—and only then—to receive the vaccine, it’s your turn. No one can pay for immediate access to a vaccine. The FBI started seeing this scam in December 2020, not long after the Pfizer vaccine was approved for mass production and distribution.
Pay out of pocket
When you go in for your scheduled appointment for the vaccine, you won’t be charged for the dose. There may be a vaccine administration fee or other co-pay, but these can be reimbursed through your insurance carrier or, if you aren’t insured, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.
Pay a shipping fee, get the vaccine
In this scam, thieves claim they can ship the COVID-19 vaccine to your home for a fee. If you come across an ad of this sort, back away slowly. Vaccines are only being shipped to medical facilities and pharmacies. Furthermore, you should only receive a vaccine by a professional at authorized vaccination sites.
Fake (but believable) entities
You may receive unsolicited emails, phone calls, or texts from a person claiming to work for a vaccine center or other medical facility, pharmacy, or insurance company. The big red flag here is if the scammer asks for your personal and medical information to determine if you’re eligible for the vaccine. In Oregon, the vaccine is being administered in phases, while other states have released detailed information on when and where their residents can expect to be vaccinated.
Proof of virus or antibody test
Scammers have reached out to unwitting victims claiming they need to purchase a COVID-19 or antibody test before receiving the vaccine. Beyond the usual forms of delivery—email, phone call, text—online advertisements of this nature have also been popping up. Don’t believe any of it—proof of previous tests will not be required to receive a vaccine.
... And the scams keep coming
Now that millions of Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, new scams have cropped up, including a "survey scam" and "passport scam." The FTC saw an uptick of people receiving unsolicited communications asking them to complete a limited-time survey about the vaccines. The scam is a promise of a reward in return for paying shipping fees. The other rampant scam involves taking advantage of the rollout of vaccine passports being used to fast-track the reopening of businesses and entertainment venues. Fraudulent vaccine passports and certificates have begun to surface on websites and online forums.
Sadly, these and other similar scams were around throughout 2021 as Americans lined up to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. And they're still out there in 2022. If you receive unsolicited messages about these vaccines or feel you have been a victim of a vaccine scam, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). For additional information about personal security, visit SELCO’s Security Center.
One final thing to remember: Once you’re fully vaccinated, fight the urge to celebrate by putting your vaccination card on social media. You’ll likely just be inviting identity fraud. None of us want that.