Scammers and phishers are trying to steal your money and your personal information with fake schemes promising to get you the COVID-19 vaccines, warn the FBI and two other federal agencies.
"The FBI, HHS-OIG, and CMS have received complaints of scammers using the public's interest in COVID-19 vaccines to obtain personally identifiable information (PII) and money through various schemes," reads the warning, issued earlier this week by the FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
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The agencies warn members of the public to beware "unsolicited emails, telephone calls, or personal contact from someone claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company, or COVID-19 vaccine center requesting personal and/or medical information to determine recipients' eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or obtain the vaccine."
Other related scams might include ads or offers that promise early access to the vaccine in exchange for an upfront fee, unverified claims of FDA approval for bogus vaccines, and fake notifications that the government is ordering you to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
In reality, the COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out first to those needing them most, including health workers, emergency first responders and elderly people in nursing homes. After that, other high-risk groups, such as prison guards and teachers, will get them next. No one is being ordered to get the vaccine.
The federal agencies have put together a brief infographic to accompany the warning, which you can see here.
Their worries are certainly justified. Last week, the Department of Justice seized two phishing sites that mimicked the websites of Moderna, maker of one of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines, and Regeneron, which makes an experimental treatment for people suffering from the disease. Earlier this month, the security-training firm KnowBe4 detailed COVID-19 phishing emails it had seen.
This past Tuesday (Dec. 21), security firm Abnormal Security said it had discovered a phishing scam that promised $600 COVID-19 relief stimulus checks in exchange for names, addresses, dates of birth and Social Security numbers — taken together, the Holy Grail for identity thieves.
To avoid being hornswoggled by COVID-19 scams, the FBI and its fellow agencies said to ask your doctor before getting any vaccination, to check the websites of the FDA and your state's health agency to learn more about the approved vaccines and their distribution, and to not share health or personal information with anyone unless you're absolutely sure of their bonafides.