Office of Consumer Protection Warns of COVID-19 Vaccine Scams

In response to an increasing number of Montgomery County residents being targeted, the county’s Office of Consumer Protection has released information on how to identify COVID-19 vaccine scams.

Among the scams identified are ones regarding bogus products, testing sites, and vaccine availability, according to a county press release. The scams are being directed toward consumers via email, texting, and telephone. In most cases, the attention-getting scams seek to have innocent residents provide the scammers with funds for services or products that do not actually exist. In other cases, fake or stolen vaccines may be offered on the dark web.

Numerous new phishing scams have been devised by scammers to take advantage of consumers seeking information on how to preregister for vaccines—or how to get around the systems that have been set up by local governments, health care systems, or private pharmacies.  The deceptive email messages seek to trick consumers into providing their Social Security numbers, credit card information, or bank information.

“Responding to the numerous health and financial related challenges caused by the current pandemic requires Montgomery County to establish multidisciplinary teams and experts to collaborate and take action,” said County Executive Marc Elrich in a statement. “We recognize that scammers seek to exploit news events and cause financial harm to consumers and businesses. Accordingly, in addition to providing information about vaccines and testing, we also need to provide alerts to prevent residents from becoming the targets and victims of COVID-19-related scams that may cause financial harm.”

“In the wake of COVID-19, scammers are finding new ways to cause financial and irreparable harm,” said County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz. “During the past several months, we have seen a dramatic increase of fraudulent vaccination sites, robocalls, and phishing scams targeting County residents—especially our most vulnerable. We must continue to do all that we can to end these criminal practices and protect our residents.”

To prevent interaction with scammers, Office of Consumer Protection Director Eric Friedman advises residents to rely on information provided by the County’s official COVID-19 information portal. “These scammers are clever and opportunistic,” said Friedman. “They seek to turn the latest news events into scams that exploit consumer fears and concerns regarding the Coronavirus.”

Scams can be reported to the Office of Consumer Protection by emailing [email protected], or by calling the OCP’s Anonymous Tip Line at (240) 777-3681.

Earlier this month, Takoma Park Police and the Federal Communications Commission warned residents of scammers preying on consumers during the pandemic, trying to capitalize on the COVID-19 vaccines. “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the United States, the FCC has learned of scam text-message campaigns and robocalls that prey on virus-related fears,” said the FCC in a statement.

Graphic: Montgomery County Council/YouTube

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