The coronavirus vaccine inching toward approval in the U.S. is desperately anticipated by weary Americans longing for a path back to normal life. But criminals are waiting, too, ready to use that desperation to their advantage, federal investigators say.
Homeland Security investigators are working with Pfizer, Moderna and dozens of other drug companies racing to complete and distribute the vaccine and treatments for the virus. The goal: to prepare for the scams that are coming, especially after the mess of criminal activity this year with phony personal protective equipment, false cures and extortion schemes.
FBI Washington Field Office Assistant Special Agent in Charge Timothy Thibault told ABC News there could initially be issues in distributing the vaccine that scammers will use to their advantage.
“What we would say to the public is to be leery of and be on guard for scams related to telemarketing, malicious websites or emails where people are taking advantage of the initial supply-and-demand problem,” Thibault said.
In October, the World Health Organization found a fake flu vaccine in Mexico, according to EUROPOL, the European Union’s law enforcement arm. EUROPOL worries the same could happen with the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The same scenario is also likely to happen when COVID-19 vaccines do become available,” the agency said in a press release. “Similar to the fake influenza vaccine encountered in Mexico, counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines may represent a significant public health threat if they are ineffective at best or toxic at worst, given their production in underground labs without hygiene standards.”
Specifically, Thibault stressed that there will “certainly” be bad actors looking to take advantage of people during the rollout of the vaccine.
“Bad actors will reach out to people and may take advantage of their desperation to get the vaccine early,” he said.
Thibault warned no American should have to pay for the vaccine – and anyone telling them to do so is wrong.
Tips to avoid falling victim
A few things to keep in mind to avoid falling victim to vaccine scams:
• Always consult a licensed medical professional to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment.
• Make sure your doctor has been approved to administer the vaccine.
• Do not buy COVID-19 vaccines or treatments over the internet.
• Do not buy COVID-19 vaccines or treatments through an online pharmacy.
• Ignore large, unsolicited offers for vaccinations and miracle treatments or cures.
• Don’t respond to text messages, emails or calls about vaccines and treatments.
• Be wary of ads for vaccines and treatments on social media.
• Any suspicious activity can be reported to: covid-19 email@example.com.
(Associated Press, CNN)