While high demand for the coronavirus vaccine is a promising step toward beating the virus, it has also created a ripe environment for scammers, who officials say are looking to take advantage of people’s eagerness to receive a dose.
“Right now, [people] want the vaccine. They want to be safe. They want a cure,” said state Attorney General William Tong. “Those are all ways that people are getting preyed upon.”
Connecticut is no stranger to COVID-19 scams. Earlier in the pandemic, local officials were dealing with fake testing pop-up sites and pandemic-related price gouging. Nationally, federal agents are still busting fraudsters selling phony N-95 masks.
With the introduction of the vaccine, these scams have taken on many new forms like illegitimate appointment portals and false offers of an earlier dose for a fee.
“Everybody is vulnerable, particularly in a public health emergency where all of us are feeling unsafe,” Tong said.
Connecticut residents can sniff out and avoid a vaccine scam by remembering:
- No one should be asking for your Social Security number or bank information to provide you with a vaccine, and nobody needs to pay to get early access to the vaccine.
- Legitimate distribution sites will never ask you to pay to put your name on a list to receive the vaccine.
- Anyone offering a “miracle cure,” treatment or medication that claims to prevent the coronavirus and is not one of the federally approved vaccines is more than likely fraud.
- Health insurance information is not required to get a dose of the vaccine.
- You should not show your COVID-19 vaccine card on social media, as it displays sensitive personal information.
Tong added that residents need to make sure any calls or emails related to the vaccine are coming from legitimate sources before handing over personal information or clicking on any links or attachments. The same goes for COVID-related stimulus and charity scams, he said.
“If there’s any doubt, take their name and number, hang up the phone and then make a fresh call yourself to [where they claim they’re from] and ask if it’s legitimate. Chances are, it’s not,” Tong elaborated.
Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection spokesperson Kaitlyn Krasselt said that so far, they’re aware of one instance where a resident gave a Social Security number to a vaccine scammer over the phone.
As of now, neither the DCP nor the Attorney General’s office has received any formal complaints related to the vaccine, but both are on the lookout for COVID-centered scams, especially with the pending stimulus checks.
“We’ve been afraid that people will be targeted in the chaos of getting the vaccine,” Krasselt said. “We’re reminding people to really be vigilant. It’s easy to be distracted right now.”
Vaccine scams — as well as stimulus and charity scams — can be difficult to track, as many are based outside of Connecticut. Tong said that he encourages any resident who believes they’ve encountered a scam to report it right away, as the state can use the much-needed information to investigate.
“For as much as we can, for as much as law enforcement can, we take action to stop scammers and to punish them,” Tong said. “We need actual information and an actual person making the complaint to really investigate.”
Residents can report a suspected scam to the DCP by filing a complaint or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also report suspicious vaccine distribution practices or concerns for public health to local law enforcement or local public health officials.
More information about Connecticut’s rollout can be found at ct.gov/covidvaccine or by calling the state’s COVID-19 hotline at 2-1-1.
“We’re ready to take action on specific complaints of scams,” Tong said.