As if it wasn’t a stressful enough time – with tens of millions of Americans anxiously awaiting vaccination information to help protect themselves and their families from COVID-19 – a new crop of scams are exploiting the process.
In fact, the FBI and the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services are warning about fraudulent vaccination schemes circulating through telemarketing calls, text messages, social media platforms, and even door-to-door visits.
In some cases, people have been asked to pay a fee to get their vaccine, get early access to one, or get on a prioritized waiting list. Some victims are giving out detailed, personal information, used to fraudulently bill federal health care programs and commit medical identity theft.
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To avoid falling victim to these vaccination scams, government agencies are reminding everyone to take heed to the following warnings – and be sure to share these with loved ones, including those more vulnerable, such as aging relatives.
Tips to avoid vaccine scams
► You will never be asked to pay for a vaccine, or be charged for any administration costs, copays, or coinsurance fees. You will not be denied vaccination, even if you do not have health insurance coverage. You will not be asked for money to reserve a spot in line or to jump ahead in a list for a vaccination.
► Some scammers confirm the vaccine is free, but you must pay to undergo additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining a vaccine. This is false.
► Government and state officials will not call you to obtain detailed personal information in exchange for a vaccine. Medicare will not call beneficiaries to offer COVID-19 related products or services. Similarly, anyone claiming to offer HHS grants related to COVID-19 is trying to defraud you, so do not divulge personal or financial information.
► The vaccine registration processes may vary by state (and sometimes even by county), therefore contact your health care provider to securely book a COVID-19 vaccination appointment. If you don’t have one, consult your doctor or local public health authorities. The FBI suggests visiting your state’s health department website for info about authorized vaccine distribution channels and only obtaining a vaccine through such channels. If someone reaches out to you to set up an appointment, verify who that person is before giving any personal information.
► You can use Vaccine Finder, a free online tool from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to search vaccine providers near you, plus Apple added these authorized vaccination locations within its Apple Maps app.
► Do not respond to text messages or emails about the vaccination or click to open hyperlinks about the vaccination from unknown individuals. Be wary of any unsolicited calls or visitors offering vaccinations, COVID-19 tests or pandemic supplies. If you receive a suspicious call, hang up immediately.
► On social media sites (and through messaging tools, like Facebook Messenger), ignore any advertisements or offers for vaccinations or COVID-19 treatments.
► If you’re offered to purchase a COVID-19 vaccination card, it’s a scam. Only those that provide valid proof of COVID-19 vaccination can receive a vaccination card.
► Never share photos of your vaccination cards on social media, as these cards contain your personal information – including date of birth, health care details and other identifiable info – that can be used to steal your identity.
Other ways to fight fraud
Reduce the odds of a becoming a victim of fraud with these following tips:
Use strong and unique passwords
Never use the same password for all your online activity. If a service is hacked and your password is exposed – such as a bank that suffers a data breach – cybercriminals may try it on another account. Reputable password manager apps are a handy way to remember passwords or passphrases.
Enable two-factor authentication
Make it harder for the bad guys to access your data by adding a second layer of defense. Two-factor authentication (2FA) means you not only need a password or passcode (or biometrics logon, like a fingerprint of facial scan) to confirm only you can access your accounts, but you also receive a one-time code to your mobile phone to type in. In other words, 2FA combines something you know (password) with something you have (smartphone).
Install good ‘antimalware’
Just as you wouldn’t leave the front door to your home unlocked, you shouldn’t let your tech be vulnerable to attacks, whether it’s a virus or other malicious software (“malware”) that sneaks onto your device or caused by being tricked into giving out sensitive information. Good antimalware – that’s updated often — can identify, quarantine, delete, and report any suspicious activity coming into your computer or flag sensitive info going out. And make sure your software, including your operating system, is up to date.
Avoid Wi-Fi hotspots
Do not conduct any financial transactions – like online banking, trading, or shopping — when you’re using a public computer (such as in an airport lounge) or when you’re using a public Wi-Fi network (say, at your favorite coffee shop). You never know if your information is being tracked and logged — so it’s best to wait until you’re on a secured Internet connection at home. Or use your smartphone as a personal hotspot, which is safer than free Wi-Fi.
Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast at marcsaltzman.com/podcasts.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.