GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — With the COVID-19 vaccine now on its way, consumer advocates believe scams related to it will soon follow.
The FTC marked $201.26 million in coronavirus-related fraud this year and 38,792 cases of identity theft.
“COVID-19 has been very good for scammers,” said Troy Baker, BBB educational foundation director.
Baker says there are currently no reports of vaccine-related scams in West Michigan, but he expects it to happen. Since the pandemic’s start, the BBB has received claims about fraudulent COVID-19 testing, treatments, and stimulus checks.
“Scammers are very good at taking whatever the big news of the day is, the big happening, and adapting what they’re doing to that,” said Baker. “If you’re somebody who typically uses a social security phone scams, you might now modify that to say, ‘This is the social security administration, this is how we’re going to get you signed up so you could get your COVID-19 vaccine.’”
Baker says to avoid getting ripped off, consumers need to stay informed since scammers prey off the unknown.
“In cases like the COVID-19 vaccine, there’s a lot that isn’t known by customers out there and patients out there [like], ‘When am I going to get it? How am I going to get it? When do I get in line to get it?’ said Baker. “There’s a lot of unknowns right now and that’s the perfect place for scammers to slide in and try to fill in those gaps in a way that rips you off.”
In Michigan, the vaccine is being prioritized to healthcare workers with direct exposure to the coronavirus. The CDC says any vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to American people at no cost.
“Anybody who calls, emails, or text messages you, asking for money, asking for gift cards, asking for wire transfers, that is a scam,” said Baker. “You can’t jump the line, you can’t pay to be put in line, that’s not how the process is going to work.”
According to Baker, any information about the vaccine should come from a trusted source, like someone’s doctor or local health department.
If someone is contacted by a potential scammer, Baker recommends getting as much of their information as possible then report it to the BBB, FTC, or local police.
“Besides loosing money, besides having your personal information out there and having to deal with identity theft concerns and issues, it really does impact your level of trust,” said Baker. “If you’ve been scammed, if you lose money to these scammers, you’re going to have a hard time trusting anything going forward.”
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The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement launched a new effort in November to work alongside the drug companies developing the vaccines to stop the sale and distribution of fake vaccines. I.C.E says it has seized more than $26 million in illicit proceeds and made 170 arrests since the pandemic started.