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Watch Out for COVID-19 Vaccine Scams

As millions of people sign up for COVID-19 vaccines across the United States, dishonest people see yet another opportunity to defraud, cheat or steal from unsuspecting victims. Don't let yourself be swept up in these types of scams. Too often, these con artists make promises that they can't keep, including offers of faster access to vaccine shots or even personalized delivery.

If you fall for one of these bogus claims, you could pay for services or products you'll never receive, and your personal information might be compromised, leading to dire financial consequences. Plus, you could miss out on available appointments to receive a legitimate vaccine.

6 Common Scams

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have identified six fraudulent claims that are being made about COVID-19 vaccines.

1. You must pay up front to receive the vaccine. You do not have to pay anything to get your shot. It's free if administered at an authorized location, including a participating hospital, pharmacy or mass vaccination site (such as a sports stadium, arena or amusement park). To find the list of authorized COVID-19 vaccination locations for your state, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Important: In some limited instances, a vaccine provider may charge an administrative fee for which you may be reimbursed through your insurance or, if you're uninsured, the Health Resources and Services Administration. But you won't be turned away at the door. If a provider insists on payment, it's a scam.

2. You can pay to have your name put on a waiting list. The COVID-19 vaccination process isn't uniform throughout the United States. So, there are no "bright line rules" for how vaccinations are being handled, or should be handled, in your area. In many parts of the country, you'll be contacted to go on a waiting list or to register for a vaccination appointment. Take advantage of these opportunities, but don't be fooled into thinking that you must pay for the privilege.

3. You can pay a fee to get your vaccine sooner. Each authorized location has a vaccine waiting list. But vaccine administrators aren't allowed to accept a payment to move your name higher on the list. If you receive an offer to be vaccinated early in exchange for a payment, report it to the FTC. Note that a fraudster is likely working from a random list that isn't based on your existing vaccination date. So, you may be contacted by these scammers, even if you don't have any appointment yet.

4. You're asked to schedule an appointment on a suspicious platform. It's hard to keep up with the various entities offering vaccination appointments — and the list seems to grow every day. In general, it's best to stick with scheduling offers being made through state and local agencies, hospitals and approved pharmacies. If you're asked to register on an unfamiliar site or one that closely resembles a familiar one, don't click on any links. The scammer could use your personal information for illegal means.

5. You can pay to have a vaccine sent to you. Another scam exploits the desire of some Americans to avoid physically visiting vaccination sites where they might come in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 or has been exposed to someone with the virus. Instead, the scammer offers to have the vaccine shipped to your personal residence for a fee.

However, state and local authorities and pharmacies aren't shipping out any vaccines. They're only administered at approved sites by personnel who have been specifically trained. Don't pay to have a vaccine shipped to your house. It's unlikely to show up.

6. You can pay to take tests to obtain a vaccine. Some con artists offer to provide a vaccine appointment only if you submit to additional COVID-19 testing. This scam may include offers through emails, texts or phone contacts, encouraging you to pay for test products and services. Beware: No authorized vaccination providers require this type of testing.

Ways to Avoid Scams

The FTC recommends checking with state and local health departments for details on the vaccination programs in your area. You also may want to consult with your personal physician, pharmacist or health insurance provider before scheduling an appointment.

Other practical suggestions listed on the FTC website include the following:

  • Don't pay to sign up for the vaccine. There are no charges for making an appointment or getting in line.

  • Rely strictly on approved vaccination providers. Ignore ads to buy the vaccine from other sources.

  • Watch out for suspicious texts. If you're asked to click on a link in a text, verify its legitimacy first. Call someone you trust — perhaps your physician or pharmacist — if you're unsure about the nature of a text.

  • Delete emails and attachments from unknown sources. The scammer could infect your device with malware if you click on a link.

Senior Citizens: A Prime Target for COVID Scams

Everyone is fair game for a COVID-19 scam, but some senior citizens are especially vulnerable. The problems are compounded for elderly people who have been living in isolation during the pandemic and aren't familiar with the latest technology, such as online banking and mobile payment systems. When someone calls and sounds legitimate, an elderly person may be all too willing to engage in conversations that put them at risk.

Some warning signs of senior fraud include:

  • A new, dependent relationship with someone outside the immediate family,

  • A sudden need for assistance with tasks that the senior had previously performed independently,

  • Paranoia about those they have trusted in the past,

  • Isolation from the rest of the family,

  • Unexpected changes in spending habits, bank account access or payment card usage,

  • Misplaced or lost retirement plan account information, banking statements and other financial records, and

  • A lack of understanding about financial matters.

If a loved one has exhibited some of these traits, they may be in the crosshairs of a scam. Hold a family meeting but handle the matter with sensitivity. The worst thing you can do is to create even greater distance from those who are in the most danger.

Final Thoughts

It's imperative to protect your private information from unscrupulous third parties. No one — not the vaccine distribution site, health care provider, pharmacy, health insurance company or Medicare — will contact you to get your Social Security number or banking information to sign up for your vaccine appointment. Follow the procedures established by your state and local authorities.

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