AMU Content Type* Cyber & AI Cybercrime DHS Homeland Security Law Enforcement Organized Crime Original Public Safety

Scammers Are Targeting Coronavirus Vaccines and Victims

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted nearly everyone and has been responsible for mass unemployment, many illnesses, fatalities, and a lot of fear. It has created a new vulnerability because of the uncertainty of how the coronavirus behaves and the lack of existing information that will lead to the end of the pandemic.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Created New Opportunities for Scammers

Online scammers are constantly seeking new ways to exploit victims for money, and the coronavirus pandemic created new opportunities for these thieves. INTERPOL, the international criminal police organization that involves law enforcement from 194 member countries, has addressed this threat.

INTERPOL’s Cybercrime Unit found 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies believed to sell illegal medicine. Over half of these sites were responsible for cyber threats such as phishing and spamming malware. Phishing emails are used to collect personal information and credit card numbers, which are then used in identity theft.

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in threats associated with identity theft through fake online virus supplies. Even more dangerous is the threat of fake medicines or vaccines that could cause physical harm to unwary buyers.

Efforts Are Being Made to Warn the Public of Coronavirus-Related Scams

INTERPOL has provided a warning to online consumers to be careful when they seek medical equipment or medicine related to the coronavirus and potential vaccines. INTERPOL has also offered warnings about advertising, selling, and administering fake vaccines, which is especially timely because of media coverage that highlights the fact that vaccines should be available soon.

Similarly, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General is alerting the public of telemarketing calls, text messages, and even door-to-door visits to perpetuate coronavirus-related scams. Earlier this year, a scam took place in Michigan that targeted seniors and involved fake coronavirus vaccines. The scam attempted to sell seniors a vaccine for $29.99 that would be delivered to the victim’s doorstep.

It’s Best to Rely on Trusted Sources and Doctors

To avoid becoming a victim of a scammer, it is always best to rely only on trusted healthcare sources and doctors. For example, imagine that someone unexpectedly calls you and states her or she is from the health department or a potentially legitimate source.

If what that person says makes you suspicious, one option is to call them back at a number that you know is accurate for that organization. Once the vaccine is available, it is best to obtain it through a doctor’s office, pharmacy, county health department, or licensed medical clinic.

Another Threat Is to the Coronavirus Vaccine Itself

Scammers are also targeting the coronavirus vaccine and how it’s distributed. Recently, IBM discovered a phishing email that spans six countries and targets the organizations that are responsible for keeping the vaccine supply chain moving. Cybersecurity researchers have not yet identified who is behind the campaign to prevent the vaccine from being distributed.

But the researchers found that the phishing email impersonated an executive from Haier Biomedical, a legitimate member of the coronavirus vaccine supply chain associated with the temperature-controlled preservation of the vaccine. IBM security researchers shared that “we assess that the purpose of this COVID-19 phishing campaign may have been to harvest credentials, possibly to gain future unauthorized access to corporate networks and sensitive information relating to the COVID-19 vaccine distribution.”

Scammers are always seeking new ways to exploit victims, and it is especially important to remain vigilant during this pandemic. Protecting personal information and obtaining coronavirus supplies or vaccines from reputable sources are particularly essential in remaining safe from criminals.

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Sadulski is an Associate Professor within our School of Security and Global Studies. He has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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