Public health officials are warning of scammers who promise early access to the vaccine for people who hand over their Social Security Number to callers.
With the initial supply of the first Covid-19 vaccines allocated to health care personnel and long-term care facilities, health and security officials have already identified phishing scams in which perpetrators impersonate health care workers.
“If you’re receiving unsolicited offers for a vaccine — not one, not two, but about 10 red flags should go up,” Nenette Day, assistant special agent in charge at the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, told NBC News. “There is no way that you under any circumstance should deal with anybody except a known and reputable medical provider or pharmacy,” Day added.
The HHS issued a fraud alert on Dec. 3, warning that the general public should remain cautious of malicious behavior as the vaccine rolls out.
“Medicare will not call beneficiaries to offer Covid-19 services” and government officials will not call the general public to obtain personal information, the agency wrote on its website.
“You will not be asked for money to enhance your ranking for vaccine eligibility. Government and State officials will not call you to obtain personal information in order to receive the vaccine, and you will not be solicited door to door to receive the vaccine,” the advice concluded.
If consumers do receive an unsolicited call asking for information, health experts urge victims to hang up immediately. Do not open or respond to text messages and hyperlinks about Covid-19 from unknown sources, as it may download malware that can potentially harm a consumer’s device, the agency warned.
The Federal Trade Commission also issued guidance on vaccine scams, recommending that consumers check with their health care provider, prior to paying for, or receiving, any Covid-19-related treatment.
Grifters frequently lure victims by forcing them into making fast decisions on the phone, the Better Business Bureau told NBC News. “Scammers will always try to get you to make a decision quickly […] and that’s because they don’t want people to think about it,” the organization told NBC News.
The BBB is expecting an uptick in hoaxers using the newly approved vaccine as a way of coaxing money and personal information out of victims, telling NBC News that consumers should be cautious of any “claim to immediately cure a wide range of diseases” and to avoid all emails that promote false fundraising initiatives to combat the virus.
If consumers receive a call they suspect is fraudulent, the first step is to hang up, the BBB says. And if the call is from a legitimate health care provider, consumers should match the number listed on the back of their health insurance card to the caller ID. If the numbers do not match, hang up and report the incident to bbb.org/scamtracker.