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The development and distribution of coronavirus vaccines has finally brought a sense of hope that the end to the pandemic is in sight. But, as is often the case, fraudsters have begun to take advantage of others' hopes and fears. There were already COVID-19 scams you had to be wary of, and now, you'll want to be cautious when it comes to vaccine-related scams as well.
Coronavirus Vaccine Scams
Scammers don't need to reinvent the wheel to create a new scam. Often, they combine known methods for getting people to hand over their money or personal information with a twist based on what's going on in the world. On one hand, this could make the scams easier to identify if you're in the know. However, these methods are repeatedly used because they work.
Scams can also take different forms. You may be asked to make a payment, either directly or by buying and sending someone a gift card or money order. Or, the scammer may be after your personal information, such as your Social Security number, mother's maiden name or health insurance identification number. They could then use your information to commit various types of identity fraud, or sell it to fraudsters.
With all this in mind, here are some of the most common COVID-19 vaccine scams:
- Offers to buy the vaccine or get priority access: You may receive offers to purchase the vaccine or pay to put yourself on a shortlist—these are not legitimate. You can't buy the vaccine yourself, you won't need to pay any out-of-pocket expenses to receive a COVID-19 vaccine from a legitimate distributor, and you can't pay to get priority access.
- Fake vaccines and cures: Scammers may offer products for sale that they claim will cure COVID-19 or act as a vaccine. You can't get any of the tested and approved vaccines shipped to your home.
- Requests for personal or financial information: Vaccine distribution sites, insurance providers, pharmacies, vaccine center employees and contact tracers shouldn't ask for your Social Security number, Medicare number or any financial account numbers. In general, be wary of any phone calls, text messages, emails, letters, advertisements, direct messages or in-person solicitors that claim they can help get you a vaccine.
- Impersonating Medicare: Medicare isn't calling to offer coronavirus products or services.
The list of COVID-19 vaccine scams may grow over time. And, some scams might not be as prevalent. If you have questions about when and where you can get the vaccine, look for updates on the FDA's website, on your state's health department website and from your health care provider.
Additional Ways to Avoid Scams and Identity Theft
While coronavirus and vaccine scams may make headlines right now, that doesn't mean other types of scams have ceased. Fortunately, a few basic practices can offer protection against many common scams and identity theft attempts.
- Verify before trusting. Scammers can "spoof" phone numbers and email addresses to make it look like a call or message is coming from a trusted source. If you're unsure, it's always best to look up the contact information for the organization the person claims to represent and initiate a call or message yourself.
- Don't share personal information. Most organizations will never ask for your personal information over the phone, on social media or by text message.
- Ignore robocalls. The never-ending robocalls are certainly annoying, and it's better to ignore them rather than respond to a message. Don't press a number on your phone or respond to messages; just hang up.
- Be cautious when you're asked for a specific type of payment. Scammers who are after your money rather than your personal information may ask that you send them money by wire transfer, money order or gift card.
- Don't carry important personal information with you. Keep your Social Security card, birth certificate and passport secure and at home, and make sure your phone automatically locks.
- Safeguard your credit. If you worry your identity has been compromised, adding a credit freeze or lock or a fraud alert to your credit reports can help keep identity thieves from opening a new account in your name.
- Secure your online accounts. Using a unique password for each online account can keep one data breach from impacting all your accounts. You can use a password manager to create and store strong passwords for your accounts.
Monitor and Protect Your Identity
Avoiding scams is always best, since if you do fall victim and wind up sending someone money or purchasing a fake vaccine, you likely won't be able to recoup your costs. Additionally, you want to beware of thieves getting your personal and medical information, some of which may already be compromised due to a company's data breach.
Monitoring your credit for an unexpected change, such as a new account you didn't open, can give you a headstart to shutting down identity theft if it happens. Signing up for free Experian credit report monitoring can help. More robust identity theft protection services, such as Experian IdentityWorksSM, may require a subscription. However, they often come with wider-reaching monitoring and insurance protections that can save you time and money if your identity is compromised.