Online Scams

COVID-19 vaccine scams and how to avoid them

Jan. 7, 2021

As public health officials, scientists and logistic operators work around the clock to get the new coronavirus vaccine distributed, scammers are also working 24/7 to figure out how to profit from this medical breakthrough.

Australians have suffered greatly from COVID-19 related online scams. As of December 1 2020, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has reported over $6 million as having been lost to Covid-19 related cybercrime since the pandemic began.

COVID-19 related scams have included everything from fake investment schemes to the circulation of false positive test results. The effects of these scam campaigns have been devastating. Not only has a significant amount of money been stolen, but the corresponding spread of ‘fake news’ has put people’s lives at risk. 

Much of this misinformation has surrounded the development and approval of COVID-19 vaccines. Scammers thrive on situations that create uncertainty and stress, which means the vaccination rollout is a prime opportunity for them to take advantage of unsuspecting victims.

Here are some potential ways scammers may try to use the COVID-19 vaccine to try and steal your money or identity.

1. The “Jump the Line” Scam

All Australians will have to wait their turn to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Want to know where you stand? The ABC offers an interactive tool that can help you find your place in the COVID-19 vaccine line.

Anyone who offers you a golden ticket to move to the front of the line is a scammer. All legitimate health organisations will follow the Department of Health’s guidelines on who should get the vaccine first. Australia’s vaccine rollout will commence in late February, and it is expected that frontline workers — healthcare professionals, and quarantine and border workers — will be first in line.

Tips for avoiding this scam: Follow legitimate news sources and stay in touch with your local health officials to find out when you can expect to get the vaccine. And be aware that scammers might use caller ID spoofing to make it look like they’re calling from a legitimate health organisation.

2. The Info Collection Scam

Be on the lookout for emails, texts or other messages claiming to be from a health care organisation or insurance company seeking your personal information to make an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Scammers might use this ploy to try to get your name, address, Medicare number and other data they can use for ID theft and other types of fraud. This scam could also open you up to medical identity theft, a problem across the country that can leave people with huge medical bills and a big mess to sort out.

Tips for avoiding this scam: Be wary of anyone who contacts you to request your personal information. If you get an email or text message that seems to come from your health insurer or another reputable organisation, look up their information and contact them directly rather than responding to the message.

3. The Alternative Cure Scam

As Australians anxiously await a vaccine, scammers hope they’ll fall for false promises of coronavirus preventative measures and so-called miracle cures.

Between March and June 2020, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) issued 58 infringement notices totalling over $500,000 to companies and individuals that breached therapeutic goods legislation.

There have been many more incidents recorded since then; most notably, Australian fitness giant Lorna Jane was fined close to $40,000 after it claimed that its “antivirus activewear” could protect wearers from viruses and bacteria.

Tips for avoiding this scam: Vet all your sources of information about the coronavirus, and don’t trust anyone claiming to have a cure or surefire preventative for Covid-19. Until you can get vaccinated, stick to the basics: distancing, masks, hand-washing and avoiding large gatherings.

If you have fallen victim to a coronavirus online scam, report the details to Scamwatch. Sharing any information you have can prevent other people from becoming victims themselves.

When can I get the coronavirus vaccine?

The Australian Government has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination and the rollout is expected to commence in late February. Once other vaccines meet the stringent testing process put in place by the TGA, there should be more doses made available to the Australian public.

The Department of Health has identified priority groups for vaccination based upon public health, medical and epidemiological evidence. Priority groups include quarantine and border force workers, frontline healthcare workers, aged care and disability services staff, the elderly, and those with preexisting health conditions.

Health experts estimate that the vaccine will be widely available to Australians towards the later half of 2021. In the meantime, stay safe and watch out for online scams.

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