Watch for Vaccine Scams
If there is anything that the pandemic has proven, it’s this: Wherever there is anxiety, there is an opportunity for fraud. We saw it at the beginning of the pandemic, when fraudsters sold bogus facemasks and testing kits. As the pandemic continued, we heard news stories about scammers offering miracle cures or promising financial relief in exchange for personal information.
And now, scammers have zeroed in on the vaccine. They offer doses for sale or the opportunity to skip ahead in the vaccine line. They could ask you to purchase something that doesn’t exist, like counterfeit vaccines. Others count on you to provide personal information that they use to steal your identity. From there, they can change your account passwords or open lines of credit in your name. A third type of scam makes the information on your computer inaccessible to you unless you pay them a ransom.
So far, there have been 357,557 reports of fraud and identity theft related to the pandemic. Victims report losing $341.77 million.
How do you avoid becoming a victim? Here are the top five tips:
- As a general rule, use two-factor authentication on your most important online accounts and ensure you have an up-to-date security software with anti-phishing protection installed on your devices.
- Be wary of unsolicited communications of any kind, like early access to the vaccine, in exchange for a fee or personal information. Communications can come via e-mail, text message, or phone. The communications can appear legitimate. Scammers fake the e-mail addresses and links to websites in the emails they send. E-mail addresses may look like official federal/state government agencies, medical organizations, or health care professionals. Scammers fake the phone number they are calling from by changing the caller ID (It’s called spoofing.) to a number you trust. (Scammers have even spoofed SVMC phone numbers.) Scammers even lie about who they are when you talk to them on the phone by claiming to be someone with authority to help or harm you.
- These communications usually promise something you really, really want: think love, money, or a miracle cure. They might offer a way out of trouble that they say you have gotten into. I had a friend who fell for a phone scam where the scammer said that they were the local police and were going to arrest her unless she paid them everything in her checking account via gift cards. They got $3000 from her with no way for her to get it back. If you are offered something too good to be true or sudden bad news, like a major fine, slow down and think twice. (And if gift cards are involved, it’s a scam. Guaranteed.) If they are purporting to be official, hang up and reach out to the organization using their published number.
- Don’t click on links or download any attachments in e-mails or texts that come out of the blue from unknown sources, even if those sources seem to be people you could trust. If you get an e-mail link or attachment from someone, call them to see if they sent it to you.
- Seek out known and trusted official sources (like svhealthcare.org or healthvermont.gov) for up-to-date information and guidance about COVID-19 and the vaccine. If there is a cure or a medicine or a quicker way to get a vaccine, we’ll tell you about it!
If you follow these five tips, you will be very well protected against scammers. Don’t let your anxiety or eagerness cloud your judgement. Instead, count on the sources of information you know and trust.
Geoffrey Mazanec is Southwestern Vermont Health Care's Information Technology security engineer.