By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
To criminals, the coronavirus pandemic has brought another opportunity to target victims in scams. Earlier in the pandemic, the Better Business Bureau provided a scam alert, warning that scammers are using unsolicited messages via text, email or social media direct messages that tells citizens that they are being contacted by a contact tracing program.
According to the Better Business Bureau, the message in this scam alleges that you have been in contact with someone with the coronavirus and that you should self-isolate. The message usually provides a link for more information, but victims unknowingly expose their computers or smartphones to malware when they open the malicious link.
The Better Business Bureau also made the public aware of another type of scam where someone pretending to be a contact tracer contacts a victim and then asks the victim to verify personally identifying information (PII) such as Social Security numbers and dates of birth. This information can then be easily used by a skilled thief for identity theft.
An Emerging New Scam Involving Coronavirus Vaccine Appointments
Now, a new scam has emerged involving the recently rolled out coronavirus vaccine. Currently, there are limited quantities of the vaccine and a strong demand. For those who are eligible to receive the vaccine, an appointment is often necessary to get the vaccine.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody provided a recent consumer alert warning the public of an emerging vaccine scam that involves misleading websites that charge people to make vaccine appointments. Victims are deceived into believing that they must pay money to confirm their appointment.
According to Moody, scammers are using popular event websites such as Eventbrite to pose as county health departments and to take payment for fraudulent coronavirus vaccine appointments. Moody stated that “consumer protection investigators and criminal prosecutors in my office are aggressively pursuing reports of scammers taking money in exchange for phony COVID-19 vaccine reservations. If you have been a victim of this scam, please contact my office so we can end this fraud and help protect those seeking vaccinations.”
Moody’s consumer alert also notes that states are overseeing the free coronavirus vaccine distribution instead of the federal government. No county in Florida is charging for vaccine reservations.
Florida has a large elderly population, who are a popular target for scam artists. Florida seniors have been tricked into paying money for fake coronavirus vaccination appointments. Many senior citizens showed up at vaccination locations in Pasco County, only to discover that the website where they sent money for the appointment was fake.
Indications of a Coronavirus Scam
Websites such as Eventbrite are legitimately being used to schedule coronavirus vaccinations. However, you should immediately know that a website is a scam if you are asked to pay money to secure your vaccination appointment.
- Being asked to pay to put your name on a vaccine waiting list or to get early access
- Receiving a message from marketers who offer to sell or ship you doses of the coronavirus vaccine
- Seeing advertisements for vaccines through social media or unsolicited sources
The Best Defense Against Coronavirus Scams Is to Be Diligent and Double-Check Information You Receive
To avoid identify theft and the loss of your money, it is important to remain diligent. One of the best ways to avoid being scammed is to contact your local health department directly if they are providing the vaccinations.