Vaccines are set to be a key topic for most of 2021. As that conversation heats up, it’s important to be critical of any updates you may see or hear. The anticipation of an approved COVID-19 vaccine is already proving to be an opportunity for scammers.
The Better Business Bureau has begun receiving reports of fake emails, text messages and phone calls falsely promising access to treatment connected to the coronavirus. What those messages actually do is phish for personal or financial information used to commit identity theft.
While the federal Food and Drug Administration has now endorsed a vaccine for emergency use, a proposed rollout of that vaccine is still being updated with recommendations. The outlook is promising, but plans continue to be worked out.
Scammers are using any ambiguity to con consumers. Many are now being asked to make payments in exchange for having their name placed on a list to get the vaccine. Others are sent to online vaccine sign-up forms requesting information including Social Security numbers or bank account details.
The reality is, according to the Federal Trade Commission, that residents likely “will not need to pay anything out of pocket to get the vaccine during this public-health emergency.”
Dialogue around vaccines is only going to get louder these next few months. The BBB recommends residents follow these steps to spot any cons:
• Research carefully. Scammers are very creative, so be skeptical of anything that seems too good — or crazy — to be true. Double-check any information about the vaccine with official news sources, especially the FDA. And be aware that none of the vaccines can be currently purchased online or in stores;
• Check with your doctor. If you want a vaccine early, reach out to your health-care provider about your options. Those who don’t have a primary-care physician should check the official website of their local health department for more information;
• Ignore calls for immediate action. While you may want to be first in line for the vaccine, don’t let that sense of urgency cloud your judgment. Scammers try to get you to act before you think. Don’t fall for it;
• Double-check the URL. Scammers often buy official-looking URLs to use in their cons. Make sure the link is really what it claims. If the message alleges to come from the local government, make sure the URL ends in .gov (for the United States). When in doubt, perform a separate internet search for the website.
Learn more about protecting yourself from any coronavirus-related scams by visiting BBB.org.
Roseann Freitas is marketplace manager, Hawai‘i, for the BBB in the Northwest and Pacific. Her office is at 900 Fort Street Mall, Suite 1310, Honolulu, and can be reached at 260-0643. The website is bbb.org.