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Beware of COVID-19 Vaccine Scams

To say it’s been a rough year is putting it mildly. But the advent of the COVID-19 vaccinations has produced a light at the end of the tunnel for all of us. The vaccine rollout and distribution has been uneven, confusing, and even chaotic, with approximately 10 percent of Americans having been vaccinated to date.

Unfortunately, there are those preying on our collective desperation to receive the vaccine as soon as possible. So our family practice doctors want you to know about the many shameful vaccine scams that criminals are trying to use to steal your money and even your identity.

Some of these vaccine scams can seem very legitimate, so don’t think it can’t happen to you.

Here’s what to watch out for, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Too-good-to-be-true access

First, realize that there are no “secret” routes to receiving a vaccination. Federal, state, and local authorities control the entire vaccine supply. No one else can offer a legitimate “back door” to vaccination access.

You won’t be able to schedule an appointment through Eventbrite or any other event platform. If you think you’re able to get a vaccine, call the health care facility that is offering vaccinations to make an appointment yourself.

Requests for money in any form

The COVID-19 vaccine is free. There may be a small fee required, however, to administer the vaccine at the time of your vaccination. If so, that may be a co-pay amount from your insurance company, and you may receive a bill after the fact. But if you are asked pay such a fee at the vaccine site and you can’t afford it, you won’t be turned away.

If anyone asks you wire money, or buy gift cards and read/email/text them the numbers, or provide a credit card, debit card, or bank account information, it’s a scam.

If they ask you to pay to have your name put on a list for an appointment, or to get early access to a vaccination, or to move to the front of a line, it’s a scam. Don’t click on online advertisements or other web pages that promise you can receive a vaccine early.

And no one can sell you a legitimate vaccine through the mail.

Requests for personal information

Never give out your social security number, Medicare card number, insurance number, date of birth, or other personal information to anyone who contacts you in any way, whether by phone, email, or text. If your insurance company contacts you for any reason, they will have all your personal information, and will not ask you to “verify” it.

Anyone who does so is attempting to steal your identity or access to your Medicare or insurance benefits.

Unsolicited contacts

If you receive a phone call, text, or email from someone claiming to be from “the government” or “the health department” or any other official-sounding source, ignore it. No one will call you to set up an appointment for a vaccination. And never click on links in emails from people you don’t know.

In addition, the Florida Department of Health recently issued an alert regarding call “spoofing,” in which the caller ID supposedly shows their main number (305-324-2400). The caller asks for personal information.

“The Department will not contact you from that number for any reason,” the warning reads. “If you receive a call from (305-324-2400), please do not answer.”

Lies about tests

Some scammers are telling people they need to take an antibody test or a COVID-19 test that they will sell you before they can be vaccinated. This is not true. It doesn’t matter whether you have or have not had COVID-19. You can receive the vaccine regardless.

Know before you go

According to the Florida Department of Health, “Demand for the COVID-19 vaccine is far in excess of the supply the state has received so far. It is anticipated that the additional supplies will be coming soon.”

Meanwhile, the state is prioritizing:

  • persons 65 years of age and older
  • health care personnel with direct patient contact
  • residents and staff of long-term care facilities
  • persons deemed to be extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 by hospital providers

“Please be aware that some locations are only serving very specific populations, such as frontline health care workers. Appointments may be required and vaccine availability will vary from day to day and week to week as we work to provide vaccines to the most vulnerable first,” the department advises.

Everyone is eager to receive the vaccine as soon as possible. The federal government has pledged to increase the supply, vaccinators, and administration sites as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, keep practicing social distancing and wearing masks to ensure your and everyone’s safety. And please heed these warnings of COVID-19 vaccine scams.

To find a vaccine location near you, check the department’s website.

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