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The Latest Coronavirus Scams: Fake Vaccines

Suspicious man in suit, wearing a surgical protective face mask and sunglasses. Deals in fake illegal  COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) Coronavirus vaccine vials and injection syringes. Opens jacket and shows hidden syringes and a box of vaccine bottles.Note: QR code on bottles was generated by me and contains generic text: "SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine"
By Richard Dahl | Last updated on

Well, this was predictable.

We are speaking of vaccine scams, the latest effort by the nefarious thieves who see the coronavirus as a golden opportunity to exploit people's fears.

Coronavirus scams have taken a variety of forms – so many that it's hard to keep track – as COVID-19 has spread across the country. There have been the snake-oil salesmen pedaling bogus “cures," stimulus-payment and unemployment fraudinvestment scams, and fake-charity scams.

Now that approved vaccines are rolling out to the public, scammers see new opportunity – especially since the rollout is slow and people are nervous about the wait.

Bogus Vaccines, Bogus Websites

On January 5, Reuters reported that on the dark web forum Agartha, vials of fake COVID-19 vaccines were being offered for $500 and $1,000 or the equivalent in Bitcoin. On another dark web site, someone claiming to be from the “Wuhan Institute of Science" was offering COVID-19 vaccines in exchange for donations and information about the donors' medical histories.

Reuters also reported that several channels on the Telegram messaging app claimed to offer COVID-19 vaccines. “One user offered supposed Moderna Inc. vaccines for $180, and claimed the vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE could be had for $150 and AstraZeneca's for $110 per vial."

Other fraudsters are seeking to get victims' personal information. In December, federal agents took down websites of fake biotech companies whose real purpose was to gain personal information they could use for “nefarious purposes, including fraud, phishing attacks, and/or deployment of malware," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland.

Another form these scams take is to promise buyers the opportunity to “jump the line" to receive a vaccination earlier than they would be allowed to do under state distribution priority rules. One of them making its way around the country is a robocall that claims to let people skip ahead by sending $79.99 for a Pfizer vaccine.

Feds Issue Warnings

The FBI and two other federal agencies jointly issued a warning in December, cautioning the public to be aware of these vaccine scams. The agencies provided several tips to avoid being victimized by vaccine fraudsters:

  • Consult your state's health department website for current information on vaccine distribution channels, and only get your vaccine through those channels.
  • Consult your primary care physician before undergoing any vaccination.
  • Don't share your personal or health information with anyone other than trusted medical professionals.
  • Follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other trusted medical professionals.

Meanwhile, if you or a family member have been victimized by a scammer, it's important to report it to law enforcement. The U.S. Justice Department's National Center for Disaster Fraud provides a complaint form that you may fill out and submit. Also, most state attorney general's offices have consumer protection divisions that may also provide reporting forms, such as this one from Minnesota.

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