David Henley: Scams and the COVID-19 vaccine

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It’s good news that the COVID-19 vaccine is now being distributed throughout Nevada.

Gov. Steve Sisolak has announced that the first 164,150 doses are being distributed to hospital staffs, skilled nursing homes and residents eligible to be on the top tier of recipients. The allotments include 91,650 of the Pfizer vaccine and 72,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine. Both vaccines require two doses spaced about three weeks apart to be fully effective.

But according to warnings issued by Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, the FBI and the Better Business Bureau of Northern Nevada, ruthless and heartless criminals are selling fake vaccines and other counterfeit COVID cures to unwitting members of the public via text messages, emails, telephone solicitations and social media.

Given the intense international demand for protection from the dreaded virus, it is not a surprise that law enforcement officials across the nation are discovering these fake sites that cater to individuals desperately searching for alternative methods to obtain the vaccine more rapidly. As the vaccine distribution continues in the weeks and months ahead, more and more fraudsters are expected to ply this evil trade.

The FBI cautioned late last week that if you’re asked for a down payment or early access to the vaccine for a price, scammers are likely behind the offer. Be leery of and be on guard for vaccine scams related to telemarketing, malicious websites or emails where people are taking advantage of the initial vaccine supply-and-demand problem.

“The same scenario is also likely to happen when the vaccines do become available. Similar to a fake influenza epidemic encountered in Mexico, counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines may represent a significant public health threat if they are ineffective at best or toxic at worst, given their production in underground labs without hygiene standards,” the FBI said in a press release last Thursday.

Warnings also are being issued to avoid clicking on links in emails and texts from people you don’t know. These links might downlink a virus or redirect to a site that was created to steal your personal information. Make sure your anti-virus is up-to-date. Be wary of emails and posts claiming to be from the Centers of Disease Control or other local, state and federal health agencies. Be extra cautious of online vaccine promotions. Remember that there is no cost for the vaccines as the federal government is paying for both the initial and second vaccine shots. Conduct research before donating to charities and crowdfunding websites that promise to use the funds to assist cash-strapped families of COVID-19 victims.

According to the BBB, everything related to the vaccine will be handled and paid for by the government. If, for example, you receive an email or text message that says, “We have the vaccine available now, we just got an advanced shipment and can send it to you right away that’s weeks before the public gets it,” don’t believe it. Don’t pay for it. It’s a fake. Don’t even go to the web site attempting to sell you the fake vaccine for a hefty price. Perhaps the scammers at the other end have your credit card number and will bill you thousands of dollars for the fake vaccine, adds the BBB.

The BBB described the case of a woman who didn’t fall for a vaccine scam. She saw a website telling consumers that they could get the vaccine early and be on the waitlist if they paid a great deal of money upfront in bitcoin. Fortunately the intended victim was too smart for the fraudster and didn’t fall for his pitch. She also didn’t know was bitcoin was. When the BBB alerted the authorities about the attempted scam, the scammers got rid of their email address and created a new one. But the bad guys were eventually discovered and arrested by the authorities, I understand.

The BBB gives the following tips to identify false or misleading vaccine claims:

There is no waitlist that an individual can be on for the vaccine, especially one that has not yet been developed and approved by the proper authorities.

Be suspicious of products that claim to treat a wide range of diseases. Personal testimonials are no substitute for scientific evidence. Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, so be suspicious of any therapy claimed as a “quick fix.” If it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.

“Miracle” cures, which claim scientific breakthroughs or contain “secret” ingredients, are likely a hoax. And know that you cannot test yourself for the coronavirus, a disease that has ravaged the world.

David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.


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