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Prosecutor warns residents to beware of COVID-related scams

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Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni is urging residents to beware of becoming victims of COVID-related scams.

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, scams targeting citizens, in particular elderly residents, have taken a new twist and a new sense of urgency, according to a press release from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.

Con artists are calling senior citizens and offering early access to the COVID-19 vaccine for some form of payment, offering to ship the vaccine directly to individuals for a deposit or a fee, offering to place individuals on a waiting list, or offering added medical testing and treatment when obtaining the vaccine, according to the prosecutor’s office.

The offers come from scammers pretending to be a doctor’s office, an insurance company or a COVID-19 vaccine center. The scammer will ask for personal information or medical information to determine if an individual “qualifies” for the vaccine. Information sought will often include a Social Security number, a Medicare ID number, date of birth, credit card or bank account information, or other personal information, according to the press release.

“We live in a world where scammers will try anything to get your personal information,
medical information, and even your life’s savings using devious tactics. They are willing to pretend to be anyone just to take advantage of you. Please be vigilant; if it seems questionable, then trust your instincts that it is,” Gramiccioni was quoted as saying in the press release.

Other scams are found on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other popular platforms showing ads from unknown sources advertising access to the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Federal authorities have created a public awareness campaign that includes information to help identify these scams and where to find other information about the schemes.

“The most important piece of advice during this unusual time is to be overly skeptical of any unsolicited offers of any kind, to stay vigilant no matter how convincing the voice on the other side of the phone may be.

“Just because it is on the internet does not make it safe or true. Do not share personally identifiable information ever over the phone; that includes Social Security numbers, Medicare ID numbers, your date of birth, or credit card or bank account information; obtaining this information to defraud you is the ultimate objective,” Gramiccioni said.

Federal authorities are warning the public about several emerging fraud schemes related to
COVID-19 vaccines after receiving complaints about scammers using the public’s interest in COVID-19 vaccines to obtain personally identifiable information and money through various schemes, according to the prosecutor’s office.

The public should be aware of the following potential indicators of fraudulent activity:

• Advertisements or offers for early access to a vaccine upon payment of a deposit or fee;

• Requests asking you to pay out of pocket to obtain the vaccine or to put your name on a
COVID-19 vaccine waiting list;

• Offers to undergo additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining a vaccine;

• Marketers offering to sell and/or ship doses of a vaccine, domestically or internationally, in exchange for payment of a deposit or fee;

• Unsolicited emails, telephone calls, or personal contact from someone claiming to be from
a medical office, an insurance company, or a COVID-19 vaccine center requesting personal
and/or medical information to determine a recipient’s eligibility to participate in clinical
vaccine trials or obtain the vaccine;

• Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, email, telephone calls, online, or from unsolicited/unknown sources;

Tips to avoid COVID-19 vaccine-related fraud:

• Consult your state’s health department website for up-to-date information about authorized vaccine distribution channels and only obtaining a vaccine through such channels;

• Check the Food and Drug Administration’s website (fda.gov) for current information about
vaccine emergency use authorizations;

• Consult your primary care physician before undergoing any vaccination;

• Don’t share personal or health information with anyone other than known and trusted
medical professionals;

General online/cyber fraud prevention techniques:

• Verify the spelling of web addresses, websites, and email addresses that look trustworthy.
but may be imitations of legitimate websites;

• Ensure operating systems and applications are updated to the most current versions;

• Update anti-malware and anti-virus software and conduct regular network scans;

• Do not enable macros on documents downloaded from an email unless necessary and after ensuring the file is not malicious;

• Never provide personal information of any sort via email; be aware that many emails
requesting personal information may appear to be legitimate;

An individual who believes he or she has been the victim of a COVID-19 fraud should immediately report those concerns to their local police department, according to the press release from the prosecutor’s office.

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