Since the pandemic started, cybercriminals have been using it to develop new phishing and identity-theft scams, and they've now added the vaccine rollout to their targets.
These scammers steal money or get victims to share protected information by preying on fears around COVID-19 and the vaccines developed to prevent it.
Scams reported by federal agencies include:
- Phony job listings seeking personal information
- Government impersonation scams demanding payment
- Illegal fake vaccine card scams
- Fake post-vaccine surveys
Here in Virginia, Attorney General Mark Herring has warned against phishing attempts related to the vaccines and the federal stimulus package.
These scams can take many forms, but the scammers all have the same goal: to use you and your information to make money for themselves.
- Unsolicited mail, emails, phone calls or texts requesting personal or medical information
- Ads or offers seeking payment for access to a vaccine
- Ads for the vaccine on social media platforms
- Claims that the government is requiring people to get the vaccine
- Offers to sell you a forged CDC vaccine card
- Post-vaccine surveys
This is not just an identity theft or financial problem; it's a health concern as well. The American Psychological Association reports that the emotional impact of identity theft can parallel that of victims of violent crime. The effort to reclaim your identity, finances and credit can add significantly to the physical, mental and financial burdens so many people are already dealing with as a result of the pandemic.
Protect Your Information
Experts in law enforcement offer tips on how to prepare for, respond to and report scams.
The most important thing you can do is to avoid sharing personal or health information with anyone other than medical professionals you already know and trust.
Talk about it now with your family, before any of these scams hit home; it is especially important for vulnerable family members to be prepared, such as seniors who live alone.
Know the Facts
Information about the vaccines and their distribution changes regularly as more people are vaccinated, so be sure you are getting current information from legitimate, reliable sources. As of this writing:
- Everyone 16 and older is eligible for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in Virginia.
- While some colleges and other private organizations are beginning to require vaccines, such as for returning students, there is no government-issued mandate for vaccination.
- The vaccines are free, and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) website is the only place in Virginia to arrange for yours.
- Neither VDH nor medical offices, insurance companies or vaccine centers will reach out to you unsolicited to ask for protected information.
You can confirm any ad or sponsored post promoting vaccine clinics and availability anywhere in the country by visiting vaccinefinder.org, which is authorized by VDH and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Instead of clicking on an ad or commenting on a post, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to schedule your vaccine or find a walk-in clinic.
Report Suspicious Activity
If you do suspect fraud, take steps to protect yourself:
- Report it to IdentityTheft.gov, which offers additional resources on protecting your information
- Report it to other appropriate government agencies such as the Virginia Employment Commission and the National Center for Disaster Fraud
- Contact Equifax at 800-525-6285 to have a flag placed on your Social Security number as credit protection
- Check your insurance EOBs (the explanation of benefits forms that you receive following medical care) for any suspicious medical claims
And as a general rule, it's wise to review your credit reports often. You can check your reports every week for free, for a limited time, at AnnualCreditReport.com. In addition:
- Follow guidance and recommendations from the CDC, VDH and other trusted medical professionals
- Visit the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Bureau of Investigation websites to learn more about identifying and protecting yourself from phishing attempts
- Bookmark CarilionClinic.org/covid-19-vaccine and check back often for current information and links to reliable resources