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.
On March 7, I received an email with the subject line: Moderna-Vaccine Survey-Registration. Like a lot of folks, I was in line to get a vaccine, so it caught my attention. But after a careful look at the email details, I smelled a rat. The sender was “ModernaVaccine OpinionPanel” (odd spelling) and the address had a hotmail.com suffix – not the usual mailbox provider for a professional survey. The email it used for me was not an address I use. Hmm. The body of the email had little info but its main type was hyperlinked. Hovering over that link I could see only a jumble of letters and numbers – a red flag.
On March 24, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) posted an alert about a rash of these scam surveys. “People across the country are reporting getting emails and texts out of the blue, asking them to complete a limited-time survey about the Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccine,” wrote Colleen Tressler, of the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education, adding a Johnson & Johnson version may be out there, too. The hook? Offers of a free reward (oddly enough, each version stated the same minimum prize value of $90). The ripoff? Scammers require your credit card or bank account information to pay shipping or handling for your “free” reward. Which you never see.
AARP Montana, reporting this month on similar scams, points out that scammers are capitalizing on heightened interest in vaccines and the goodwill of people who consider it a civic duty to get their shot. Fake surveys also can be used to steal your information, collect data about you to commit identity theft, or install malware on your computer when you click on a link in your email.
So, don’t click on any links or open attachments in these emails or texts. Also don’t call or use any number provided. And never give financial or personal information to someone who contacts you randomly.
If you get an unsolicited email or text that asks for your personal information, tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a V-Safe program that includes web surveys as part of post-vaccine monitoring, but neither vaccine companies nor federal health agencies are recommending any other surveys at this time.