By Kelly Griese
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Monday’s top headlines included items both routine and groundbreaking. The news vacillated between the awarding of Electoral College votes (which doesn’t normally receive live coverage) and the first COVID-19 vaccinations of Americans. This is what’s known as a “split-screen moment” in the news business. My education and career background are in television news, and prior to joining the Secretary of State’s office, I worked as a news producer for ten years. When there are dualling headlines, it’s common for TV news providers to split the screen in order to show their viewers everything that’s happening at the same time. But while hardly anyone is still talking about the Electoral College today, I’m sure your social media feeds are filled with discussions of the vaccine, and there could be some misinformation and scams sprinkled within.
First, some information about the vaccine itself. Currently, the only approved vaccine comes from Pfizer-BioNTech. It’s designed to prevent COVID-19 disease, which is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. The vaccine received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on December 12, 2020. It’s approved for individuals age 16 and older, and it’s administered as a 2-dose series, 3 weeks apart. You can view the FDA’s vaccine fact sheet here, which includes a list of the vaccine’s ingredients, possible side effects, and a list of medical conditions you should discuss with your healthcare provider before getting the vaccine. A second vaccine made by Moderna could be approved as early as this week, and just yesterday the FDA authorized the first over-the-counter, at-home diagnostic test for COVID-19.
I’m not a vaccine expert. I’m not a virus expert. I’m a scam expert. That’s the focus of this blog post: scams related to COVID-19 and these new vaccines against it. While the Indiana Securities Division has no current reports of investment fraud related to COVID-19 vaccines, we know that con artists love emergencies and disasters. When Ebola captured headlines in 2014, social media feeds were filled with posts offering investments in fake cures, treatments, and preventions. When hurricanes hit, there’s no shortage of scammers offering insurance, repairs, and financial relief. When wildfires destroy communities out west, fake charities exploit your generous desire to help those in need.
Why are con artists drawn to emergencies and disasters? Our fear, uncertainty, and confusion make us more vulnerable to exploitation. Plus, it’s something we’re all talking about, all the time. COVID-19 is in every newscast we see, every newspaper we read, and updates on the virus flood our social media feeds. All these factors combined make COVID-19 simply irresistible to crooks. I call it a headline scam, because just like the rest of us, scammers follow the headlines.
When it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, the danger is greater than ever, because in a public health emergency, a scam can prevent you from getting the real information and medical attention you need. I discussed this issue last week in an interview with WRTV investigative reporter, Kara Kenney. Con artists are contacting people by email, phone, text, and social media. They’re offering fake cures, fake vaccines, fake treatments, and fake tests. Their end goal is to steal your money and/or personal information. Some of the scams are easy to spot, but others are highly sophisticated and look authentic.
So how can you recognize a vaccine-related scam? The Federal Trade Commission offers these tips:
- You likely will not need to pay anything out of pocket to get the vaccine during this public health emergency.
- You can’t pay to put your name on a list to get the vaccine.
- You can’t pay to get early access to the vaccine.
- No one from a vaccine distribution site or healthcare payer, like a private insurance company, will call asking for your Social Security number or your credit card or bank account information to sign you up to get the vaccine.
- Beware of providers offering other products, treatments, or medicines to prevent the virus. Check with your healthcare provider before paying for or receiving any COVID-19-related treatment.
To protect yourself and your loved ones from the virus, continue to follow guidance from health officials. Here’s a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website with the latest information on COVID-19, and here’s a link to Indiana-specific information on COVID-19.
The good news is that we finally have a vaccine, and that’s certainly something to celebrate (in a responsible, socially distanced way). In the coming weeks and months, you’re going to hear a lot about COVID-19 vaccinations. Just make sure you’re getting that information from credible outlets. And while you’re waiting to get your own vaccination, please continue to behave responsibly in order to keep yourself and others healthy.
The MoneyWise Matters blog has a wealth of information about managing money and avoiding fraud. You can look through the complete archive here.