FREEHOLDER, NJ – As reported last week by Shore News Network, throughout the country, COVID-19 scams are real. Working with local officials behind the scenes, we published our report last week. At the time, public officials were worried about causing a stir over such incidents, but now, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office has issued a warning that the scams are indeed coming to New Jersey as the Murphy administration and Biden administration continue to come up with a viable way to deploy vaccinations.
Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni is urging residents to beware of becoming victims of COVID-related scams, especially those scams targeting senior and elderly residents.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, scams targeting citizens, in particular the elderly, have taken a new twist and a new sense of urgency. Con artists are calling senior citizens offering early access to the COVID-19 vaccine for some form of payment, offering to ship the vaccine directly to you for a deposit or fee, offering to place you on a waiting list, or offering added medical testing and treatment when obtaining the vaccine. The offers come from scammers pretending to be a doctor’s office, insurance company or COVID-19 vaccine center. The scammer will ask for personal or medical information to determine if you “qualify” for the vaccine. Information sought will often include a social security number, Medicare ID number, date of birth, credit card or bank account information, or other personal information.
“We live in a world where scammers will try anything to get your personal information, medical information, and even your life’s savings using devious tactics. They are willing to pretend to be anyone just to take advantage of you. Please be vigilant – if it seems questionable, then trust your instincts that it is,” warned Prosecutor Gramiccioni.
Other scams are found on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other popular platforms showing ads from unknown sources advertising access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Federal authorities have created a public awareness campaign that includes useful information below to help identify these scams and where to find other information about the schemes.
“The most important piece of advice during this unusual time is to be overly skeptical of any unsolicited offers of any kind, to stay vigilant no matter how convincing the voice on the other side of the phone may be. Just because it is on the internet does not make it safe or true. Do not share personally identifiable information ever over the phone – social security numbers, Medicare ID numbers, your date of birth, credit card or bank account information – obtaining this information to defraud you is the ultimate objective,” Prosecutor Gramiccioni added.
Federal authorities are warning the public about several emerging fraud schemes related to COVID-19 vaccines after receiving complaints of scammers using the public’s interest in COVID-19 vaccines to obtain personally identifiable information and money through various schemes. We continue to work diligently with law enforcement partners and the private sector to identify cyber threats and fraud in all forms.
The public should be aware of the following potential indicators of fraudulent activity:
- Advertisements or offers for early access to a vaccine upon payment of a deposit or fee
- Requests asking you to pay out of pocket to obtain the vaccine or to put your name on a COVID-19 vaccine waiting list
- Offers to undergo additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining a vaccine
- Marketers offering to sell and/or ship doses of a vaccine, domestically or internationally, in exchange for payment of a deposit or fee
- Unsolicited emails, telephone calls, or personal contact from someone claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company, or COVID-19 vaccine center requesting personal and/or medical information to determine recipients’ eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or obtain the vaccine
- Claims of Food and Drug Administration approval for a vaccine that cannot be verified
- Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, email, telephone calls, online, or from unsolicited/unknown sources
- Individuals contacting you in person, by phone, or by email to tell you the government or government officials require you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine
Tips to avoid COVID-19 vaccine-related fraud:
- Consult your state’s health department website for up-to-date information about authorized vaccine distribution channels and only obtaining a vaccine through such channels.
- Check the Food and Drug Administration’s website (fda.gov) for current information about vaccine emergency use authorizations.
- Consult your primary care physician before undergoing any vaccination.
- Don’t share your personal or health information with anyone other than known and trusted medical professionals.
- Check your medical bills and insurance explanation of benefits (EOBs) for any suspicious claims and promptly reporting any errors to your health insurance provider.
- Follow guidance and recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other trusted medical professionals.
General online/cyber fraud prevention techniques:
- Verify the spelling of web addresses, websites, and email addresses that look trustworthy but may be imitations of legitimate websites.
- Ensure operating systems and applications are updated to the most current versions.
- Update anti-malware and anti-virus software and conduct regular network scans.
- Do not enable macros on documents downloaded from an email unless necessary and after ensuring the file is not malicious.
- Do not communicate with or open emails, attachments, or links from unknown individuals.
- Never provide personal information of any sort via email; be aware that many emails requesting your personal information may appear to be legitimate.
- Use strong two-factor authentication if possible, using biometrics, hardware tokens, or authentication apps.
- Disable or remove unneeded software applications.
If you believe you have been the victim of a COVID-19 fraud, immediately report it to your local police department.