More than a year has passed since the coronavirus was discovered in a Chinese seafood and poultry market. Approximately three months later, the U.S. declared the viral outbreak a national emergency. Fraudsters, who recognize a nefarious opportunity when they see one, wasted no time in figuring out how to get a piece of the COVID-19 pandemic relief pie. (To them, it’s just another day and another illegally-earned dollar in their pocket.)
There’s no shortage of fraud related to The CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program. And we’re about to experience another wave of fraud related to the fast-tracked COVID-19 vaccine. While it is a relief to know that a vaccine will soon be available to all who want it, several agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are concerned about warning the public of several emerging fraud schemes related to COVID-19 vaccines.
Here are a few things to consider:
- You will NOT receive an unsolicited offer from someone claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company, or COVID-19 vaccine center by phone, text, email, or in-person. Nor will government health care programs or government officials call the general public and ask for your personal information or request money to secure your vaccine eligibility.
- You CANNOT buy the vaccine online or pay money to receive early access. Watch out for phishing texts or emails that appear to come from a reputable company or government agency. This type of vaccine scam could trick you into downloading a ‘vaccine schedule’ that informs you of locations where you can sign up for a vaccine. If you download the document, you could be loading malware or ransomware onto your computer. (Fraudsters are good at preying on emotions.)
- You will NOT be asked to take any medical test or undergo any procedure when getting a vaccine. If scammers convince you to provide personal information, they can use it to fraudulently bill federal health care programs and commit identity theft. (And that’s a whole new can of worms right there.)
- DO contact your state’s health department website for current information about authorized vaccine distribution channels. You can also contact a known and reputable medical provider or pharmacy to obtain your vaccine.
- Be cyber-savvy. Verify web addresses, websites and email addresses to prevent accessing illegitimate sources. Update your operating systems, install anti-malware and anti-virus software, and conduct regular network scans. Don’t provide any personal information via email and use strong two-factor authentication if possible.
These are just a few suggestions to heed. For a more comprehensive list of suggestions, check here to learn how to avoid COVID-19 vaccine-related fraud. If you believe you are a victim of a COVID-19 fraud, immediately report it to the FBI (ic3.gov, tips.fbi.gov, or 1-800-CALL-FBI) or HHS OIG (tips.hhs.gov or 1-800-HHS-TIPS).
Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Federal Bureau of Investigation press release, “Federal Agencies Warn of Emerging Fraud Schemes Related to COVID-19 Vaccines,” dated December 21, 2020.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are warning the public about several emerging fraud schemes related to COVID-19 vaccines.
The FBI, HHS-OIG, and CMS have received complaints of scammers using the public’s interest in COVID-19 vaccines to obtain personally identifiable information (PII) and money through various schemes. We continue to work diligently with law enforcement partners and the private sector to identify cyber threats and fraud in all forms.