10 Tips to Protect Yourself from COVID-19 Scammers
By Lou Dignam, Director of Security, Virtua Health Information Services
Every crisis brings opportunities. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened new doors—for criminals.
These people and companies are profiting from fake treatments, false testing promises, and fraudulent insurance plans.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, nationwide there have been more than 330,000 consumer reports about COVID-related scams and fraud. In New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware alone, $30 million in fraud losses connected to COVID-19 scams have been reported since the start of the pandemic.
While authorities are working hard to crack down on these scams, here is what you can do to stay safe:
- Beware of anyone saying to need to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine or you can jump to the head of the line—for a fee. There is no charge or co-pay for the vaccine. As authorized, insurance providers will be billed for vaccine administration. If you don’t have insurance, the vaccination is free of charge.
At present, vaccines are only available to individuals who meet the criteria set forth by the State of New Jersey.
- Ignore offers for miracle cures. While progress is being made on COVID-19 treatments and vaccines are available, there is no magic bullet. To protect your health, and your wallet, avoid too-good-to-be-true products like tinctures, teas, silver products, and supplements to vaccines and medical devices. Instead, contact your health care provider with any questions about how to stay healthy or feel better.
- Never give out your personal information. If you get a call from someone claiming to be with a federal, state, or local agency and asking for your Social Security number, your bank account information, credit card, or computer login credentials, hang up. Similarly, if you receive a text or email with links or attachments to provide personal information, ignore and delete them. Texts from the health department won’t include links. And contact tracers will never ask for Social Security numbers or bank information.
If you do need to input information on a website, navigate there directly and be sure the site is secure.
- Be wary of ads for test kits. Many test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and aren’t necessarily accurate. Only use a home test kit prescribed by your health care provider. If you are experiencing symptoms and believe you may have COVID, you should be screened by a health care provider who can then refer you for testing, if needed.
- Watch for messages and robocalls claiming to be from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Medicare, or the World Health Organization (WHO). None of these agencies would reach out to you directly. The State of New Jersey has important information about COVID and links to reliable sites.
- Be wary of information shared on social media. Fact check by visiting government and health care web sites.
- Don't post a photo of your CDC vaccination card on social media. The Better Business Bureau warns that someone could take your name and date of birth visible on the vaccination card and try to steal your identity.
- Don’t respond to texts, emails, or calls about stimulus checks from the government. Messages may include language such as, “Further action is required to accept this payment into your account. Continue here to accept this payment…” and include a link that directs you to a fraudulent website to capture your sensitive information. You do not need to take any action to receive your stimulus payments.
- Use unique and complex passwords for all of your accounts. Do not use the same password for multiple accounts.
- Keep your devices up to date. Be sure your smartphone, computer, and tablet have the latest software to keep them safe from hackers. Also check your security and privacy settings to help safeguard your information.
If you come across a COVID-19 scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Your report will go into a secure database which is then shared with law enforcement nationwide.
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Updated June 22, 2022