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The vaccine’s out there, Tampa Bay. So are the bad guys

Scammers use vaccination hopes to con people out of personal information. Here’s how to thwart them.
With the roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine, be on the alert for scams.
With the roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine, be on the alert for scams. [ MARY ALTAFFER | AP ]
Published Jan. 29

The caller identified himself as Agent Johnson.

He was with the Vaccination Distribution Committee, he said, and wanted to talk about how he could get the person he was calling the coronavirus vaccine ahead of the general public.

“I realized pretty quickly it was not legit and hung up,” said the unidentified but alert citizen who recently reported the call to the Better Business Bureau.

Another call: The stranger on the line claimed he was from the county and had some questions in order to get the vaccine process rolling. When the citizen wondered about getting a cold call about the vaccine, the caller gave a phone number to dial for assurances that it was all on the up-and-up.

“When I called it back, it didn’t even ring,” the citizen reported.

Along with the agonizingly slow roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine has come confusion and hope — and con artists eager to take advantage of both.

The latest come-ons include promises of early access to the vaccine or the chance to get on a waiting list for a fee. People have reported unsolicited texts urging them to click on a link to get the shots. AARP has reported offers of “leftover” vaccine.

An unfamiliar caller might pretend to be from the insurance company or a local clinic while actually phishing for personal information that can ultimately be used for financial gain.

Beware of unfamiliar callers who want your personal information.
Beware of unfamiliar callers who want your personal information.

A Facebook user recently told the Better Business Bureau about getting a Facebook message guaranteeing the vaccine “ASAP” if she paid for it.

This was quickly followed by a message that appeared to be from a Facebook friend saying she had paid for the service and successfully gotten her shot.

“I called my friend on the phone and confirmed she had no idea what I was talking about and had not communicated with me at all on Facebook,” the complainant reported.

While some scam-attempt calls showed up on people’s phones as “no caller ID,” at least one person reported the call said it was from “Advanced Medical Group.” Scams evolve so quickly that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services frequently updates its COVID-19 fraud alert page.

Here are tips from the experts on how to avoid getting scammed:

  • If someone asks you to pay to get on a list for the vaccine, or to get early access, that’s a scam, the Federal Trade Commission warns.
  • Don’t give anyone you don’t know personal information. “No one from a vaccine distribution site, health care provider’s office, pharmacy or health care payer, like a private insurance company or Medicare, will call, text or email you asking for your Social Security, credit card or bank account number to sign you up to get the vaccine,” the Federal Trade Commission says.
  • Go to an official source — such as your state or local health department — to learn about the plan for distributing the vaccine.

If you think you’ve spotted a scam, you can report it to the Florida Attorney General’s Office at myfloridalegal.com, the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov or the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker at bbb.org.