Opinion- Lahontan Valley News
Suppose you are a Northern Nevadan who has just received his or her first or second COVID-19 vaccine dose and wants to share the good news with family and friends.
So you take photographs of both sides of your official vaccine card issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and post them on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram or Linkedin. If you do so, you are making a terrible mistake, warns the Better Business Bureau of Northern Nevada as well as a host of federal agencies that deal with consumer fraud.
That’s because your vaccine card, which contains your name, age and other personal information such as when and where you received your vaccine shots, makes you highly vulnerable to identity theft and multiple other scams, according to Tim Johnston, president of the regional BBB in Sparks.
Scammers can figure out most digits of your Social Security number by knowing your date and place of birth, and thus can open new accounts in your name, claim tax refunds for themselves and engage in other identity theft, adds Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.
“Identity theft is like a puzzle, made up of pieces of personal information. You don’t want to hand over to identity thieves the pieces they need to complete the picture. One of these pieces is your date of birth. Scammers and identity thieves often collect information gradually, scrubbing social media posts to curate a file on a person’s life, including education, employment, and vacation spots. Publishing a birth date hands over one of your most personal tidbits,” according to Mithal who was quoted in a recent New York Times article on COVID-19 scams.
A scammer can also exploit the anxiety over vaccine shortages or a slow vaccine distribution by masquerading as a government official claiming to need a credit card number to reserve another dose or booster, said Curtis W. Dukes, executive vice president of the Center for Internet Security. In such a “highly charged” atmosphere of shortages, people may “fall for that and may give up their credit cards or maybe other bits of one’s personal information,” he told the Times.
Scammers are using techniques that typically arise with the onset a major global event, such as the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The thieves often falsely claim to be online sellers of the vaccine. They send fake emails and texts that contain harmful links designed to steal your personal information. And they use robocalls to pitch vaccination misinformation.
The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccinations brings hopes to many of us, but also creates new and novel opportunities for unscrupulous individuals to lure the unsuspecting public to unintentionally provide their most personal information, state the BBB and other organizations that are bringing light to the scams.
The bottom line of all these warnings I am giving in this column is never, particularly during the current pandemic, give out any personal information, even your birth date and other information to strangers, that could be used to help them succeed in their elaborate ruses to fleece you and steal your money. Personal information contained on both sides of your wallet-sized vaccination card could be the springboard for phishing that could lead to harming you financially.
People who send out photos of their vaccine cards on social media could open themselves to scammers posing as government officials seeking to gain access to your personal information in order to create fake credit cards and money orders under your name and address. Don’t give out your mother’s maiden name to people you don’t know. Hackers and phishers are multiplying during the pandemic.
And remember that if you receive communications about vaccines that seem fishy, check it out with the BBB or your local health department. Don’t give out your bank account information or Social Security number when solicited by someone you don’t know. No legitimate, authorized vaccination site would require personal financial information to get you vaccinated. If you receive an offer to get vaccinated for a fee, ignore it and inform the local health authorities. No vaccination site charges fees for the vaccine doses. And there should be no fees demanded of those put on vaccine waiting lists.
The pandemic has aided the scammers in their quest to frighten many of us into succumbing to their ruses. We must be diligent and not fall for their lies and misrepresentations.
David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.