Coronavirus vaccine scams are on the rise — here's how to spot them

Daniel Howley
·Technology Editor
·4 min read

As if it weren’t already hard enough to score a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, criminals have begun to capitalize on consumers’ confusion with a troubling new deluge of scams.

Scams include phony websites designed to look like those of vaccine makers like Moderna (MRNA) and Pfizer (PFE) that steal your personal information. Others offer false promises of early access to vaccines, sometimes in the form of home deliveries.

This week, President Joe Biden said that the U.S. will have enough vaccine for every U.S. adult by the end of May — but in the meantime, scammers will jump at the chance to exploit the rollout as people try to get inoculated as soon as possible. So what’s the best way to avoid becoming a victim? The main thing to remember if that you’ll never have to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Scams that try to get you to pay for you vaccine

While scammers are trying to trick people into paying for the vaccine, the reality is the federal government is already paying for vaccines for everyone living in the United States. The only kind of payment involving the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the administration fee your vaccine administrator might charge your insurance provider. You, however, don’t have to pay anyone.

If you did purchase a vaccine online and received something in the mail, do not use it. There’s no telling what the substance could actually be.

Schemes asking you to pay to get on a vaccine waiting list

Getting a vaccine appointment is a pain. States and cities are struggling to deal with the deluge of people trying to gain access to a limited number of vaccines, pushing websites to the brink and in some cases, causing cancellations. Still, no place in the United States will charge you to make an appointment.

And while it may be tempting, making appointments through third-party services that promise to get a vaccine in your arm by circumventing government or pharmacy websites are nothing but scams. Avoid them.

The best way to get an appointment is to access your local health board’s website and search for available appointments. You can also call your health board if your internet connection isn’t strong or reliable enough to stay online for long periods of time.

A man receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, at Al-Nozha Hospital in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
A man receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, at Al-Nozha Hospital in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Promises to perform tests before getting a vaccine

When you go in for a COVID vaccine, you are only there to get a shot. If you receive an email, text, or phone call asking you to pay ahead of time to take a COVID test, it’s a scam. According to the FBI, criminals are using just such a means to steal money from unknowing victims.

You won’t need any test to get your COVID vaccine, so if you’re told to by anyone other than your doctor, you’re being set up for fraud.

Fraudulent websites promising vaccines for cash

Like any online scam, fake websites have proven to be a problem for Americans looking for COVID vaccines. One particular scheme that was taken down by federal authorities out of Maryland was masquerading as the site for Modernatx.com. To trick victims, the site, which stole the look and design of the actual Moderna site, used the URL Modernatx.shop, and promised vaccine deliveries to victims’ homes.

Authorities have already disrupted at least three other such fake sites out of Maryland so far.

Tips to keep in mind

In general, your best bet is to always be skeptical of anything that seems too good to be true. Finding vaccine appointments is difficult as more people become eligible, and that’s unlikely to change in the immediate future.

That said, there’s no service that will sell you a vaccine, get you scheduled for a fee, or ask you to pay for tests before receiving your shot. All of those are scams. To stay safe, only take advice from local, state, or federal websites.

And remember, keep wearing that mask.

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Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com over via encrypted mail at danielphowley@protonmail.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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