Rockford Register Star
COVID-19 scams: Here are common scams and ways to avoid them
In a time where people are financially unstable, it’s no surprise that the scammers are out in full force.
It’s been nearly a year since we all became aware of the coronavirus with most of us taking the recommended steps to wash our hands, social distance and wear a face mask. Along with those measures, as much as we can, we’ve stayed home.
Almost since day one, scammers have been on the attack. The scope of the scams reported ranged from phony messages about money from the government, fake COVID-19 discounts, miracle cures and cybercrime.
Following the news that the rollout of the vaccines is underway, the crooks made that their focus. I’ve seen many reports about phony ads for the COVID-19 vaccine on Craigslist. Telephone offers of home delivery of the vaccine. Text messages inviting you to set up an appointment for the coronavirus vaccine. Offers of “leftover” vaccine supposedly up for grab.
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There is chatter everywhere that the distribution of the vaccine has been confusing and chaotic. Armed with that knowledge, scammers are trying to get at your money and or personal information.
The feds have issued a vaccine scam alert because of the rapid rise in fraud complaints. This is what the Department of Health and Human Services and the F.B.I. say you need to be aware of:
- Advertisements or offers for early access to a vaccine upon payment of a deposit or fee.
- Requests to pay out of pocket to obtain the vaccine or to put your name on a COVID-19 vaccine waiting list.
- Offers to undergo additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining a vaccine.
- Marketers offering to sell and/or ship doses of a vaccine, domestically or internationally, in exchange for payment of a deposit or fee.
- Unsolicited emails, telephone calls or personal contact from someone claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company or COVID-19 vaccine center and requesting personal and/or medical information to determine eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or obtain the vaccine.
- Claims of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a vaccine that cannot be verified.
- Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, emails, telephone calls, online or from unsolicited/unknown sources.
- Individuals contacting you in person, by phone or by email to tell you that government officials require you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
The best thing is to not get caught in a scammers trap. HHS recommends these tips to avoid becoming a victim:
- Check the Illinois Department of Public Health or your local county health department’s website for up-to-date information about authorized vaccine distribution channels. Obtain a vaccine only through such channels
- Check the FDA’s website for current information about vaccine emergency use authorizations.
- Consult your primary care physician before having any vaccination.
- Don’t share your personal or health information with anyone other than known, trusted medical professionals.
- Check your medical bills and insurance explanation of benefits for suspicious claims, and promptly report errors to your health insurance provider.
- Follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other trusted medical professionals.
2020 Top 10 regional scams
In new local Scam Tracker findings from the BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois and the Rockford Regional Office, the menacing problem of online purchase scams continued to escalate in 2020 and are now at the top of the list for scams. Related to online purchases and phony website scams, counterfeit product scams jumped from No. 9 last year into the No. 2 position this year.
While COVID related scams we’re listed as No. 4, the number could be much higher since some COVID-19 related scams are contained in other multiple categories including phishing, counterfeit product, employment, identity theft scams and others.
This year’s top 10 list also features the return of employment scams, debt collection, advance fee loans, credit cards, and identity theft:
- Online purchase – fake websites
- Counterfeit products (clothing, electronics, shoes, purses, etc.)
- Employment – scam job offers
- COVID-19 related scams – (These may be much higher because COVID is sited in other categories.)
- Debt collections – invoices, calls or emails for fake debts
- Advance fee loan – the promise of a “loan” – after you pay fees
- Phishing scams – (clicking on scam links can lead to malware – imposter scams etc.)
- Credit card – includes fake emails and calls claiming there’s a problem with your account in order to steal money and information – or fake credit card debt consolidation
- Credit repair/debt relief
- Identity theft – it’s not if but when it will happen to you?
Dennis Horton is director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau.