In honor of my Caught Dead in Wyoming mystery series, my assistant Kay Coyte is writing for my newsletter and blog a series of consumer tips inspired by TV reporter Elizabeth Danniher.
It will come as no surprise to Consumer Tip readers that soulless con artists are using the rollout of vaccines to stem a coronavirus pandemic to fleece unsuspecting and vulnerable people for money.
“If you’re receiving unsolicited offers for a vaccine — not one, not two, but about 10 red flags should go up,” Nenette Day, assistant special agent in U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general’s office, told NBC News in mid-December as scam reports started rolling in.
HHS has a constantly evolving web page to report fraud schemes related to COVID-19. In its most recent alert, HHS notes that criminals are using telemarketing calls, text messages, social media and door-to-door visits to perpetrate virus-related scams. Here are the top two “Protect Yourself” suggestions on the HHS page (emphasis is mine):
* Be vigilant and protect yourself from potential fraud. You will not be asked for money to enhance your ranking for vaccine eligibility. Government and state officials will not call you to obtain personal information in order to receive the vaccine, and you will not be solicited door to door to receive the vaccine.
* Be cautious of unsolicited requests for personal, medical and financial information. Medicare will not call beneficiaries to offer COVID-19 related products or services.
Further, if you do receive an unsolicited call asking for information, hang up immediately. Do not open or respond to text messages and hyperlinks about COVID-19 from unknown sources, as it may download malware that could harm your computer or other device.
Just last week, the tech-savvy reporters at CNET compiled a list of vaccine scams. They include: paying for priority access or for getting on a waiting list, paying out-of-pocket for the vaccine, requiring a virus test or antibody test before getting the shot and getting the dose shipped to you for a fee. In a clever scheme to exploit Eventbrite, a platform more commonly used for book talk or concert ticketing, con artists created fake Eventbrite accounts to siphon cash and/or personal information from people thinking they were making vaccination appointments. (CNN Business reporter Sara Ashley O’Brien last week outlined in fascinating detail how this scam went down in Florida, where demand for vaccines is high, and a few counties did use Eventbrite.)
The best tip for avoiding a vaccine scam? When it’s time for you to get the shot, only go to a reputable pharmacy, health care facility or a local government-run distribution site at a school, fairgrounds, pro sports stadium — even Disneyland. Check your state or city COVID website or call its hotline, a public health department or your doctor’s office for the distribution plan in your community.