Last year, a week after our November elections, came the welcome news that Pfizer-BioNTech had developed a COVID-19 vaccine that was incredibly effective in preventing the coronavirus disease. A few days later, the biotechnology company, Moderna, announced they too had successfully finished clinical trials for their COVID-19 vaccine.
Finally, there was hope this horrible virus could be conquered. On Dec. 11 of last year, the Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer vaccine. Exactly a week later, on Dec. 18, Moderna was granted an EAU for its drug. The EAUs authorized the vaccines to be distributed in the US were used in individuals 18 years of age and older.
No sooner than the authorizations were issued, the BBB and FTC noticed an increase in reports of anxious consumers being scammed in bogus COVID-19 vaccine schemes.
For scammers, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the perfect set of circumstances to strike people worried about their health. When people are stressed about their health, it makes them even easier targets. The anxiousness to get the vaccine made folks willingly do things they normally wouldn’t.
To complicate things further, each state is distributing vaccines to their residents differently, resulting in the common question: “Who should I believe and who shouldn’t I?” Here is a list of the most prominent COVID-19 vaccination scams:
Scam 1: Payment for the vaccine. In the most common scheme, scammers are promising personal shipments if the victim is willing to pay a hefty fee. In addition to the money, the con artists often require the victim’s personal information, too. Scammers end up with lots of money and valuable private information. The victim ends up with nothing.
In the US you will not have to pay to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, so if you’re asked to pay or provide private information, it’s a scam.
Scam 2: Early access. Unsolicited offers of early access to vaccines for a fee should be ignored. The FBI has warned that scammers have sent unsolicited texts to people across the nation offering access to the vaccine, regardless of where the user was in the vaccination schedule. Health departments and legitimate vaccination sites would never vaccinate someone ahead of schedule if that person paid for it.
Scam 3: Paying for your name to be put on a waiting list. At this time, the COVID-19 vaccine is generally available to healthcare workers, chronically ill people and seniors. Ohio has established a timeline for vaccine distribution, prioritizing people over 65 and those with qualifying medical conditions. If you are not in the eligible categories, no matter what, you can’t pay to be added to the waiting list.
Scam 4: Scheduling appointments with unverified entities. Never schedule your vaccination with any entity other than the health department, authorized health provider or pharmacy. Scammers are using fake accounts and charging unsuspecting applicants to make vaccination appointments.
Scam 5: You must take additional tests before vaccination. Taking a COVID-19 test or an antibody test before you receive your vaccine is not required. Scammers have been emailing, texting and calling people, telling them they must undergo additional tests before they get their vaccine, with additional fees as well. Again, you do not need to take any additional medical tests to receive your vaccine.
Don’t fall prey to scammers. Protect yourself and stay vigilant. Reach out to your healthcare provider or health department directly to get factual information. Never deal with unknown sources, especially if they ask for your Social Security number, bank account info or insurance information (including Medicare number).
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.