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Here’s What Vaccine Scams Look Like, Beware All The Time

By Ankur Shah. Originally published at ValueWalk.

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The Covid-19 pandemic is the worst public health catastrophe the world has seen in more than a century. We all know that because we’ve all been affected unless you live in a cave in the middle of the desert. The main complaint throughout the world is that we are all forced to spend most of our time at home.


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Hackers and digital criminals are also spending more time at home, which means they’ve had a lot more time to do what they do worse: create phishing attacks, ransomware attacks, and scams. They’ve always had the resources. Now they’ve had insane amounts of time to practice their craft.

Also, Covid-19 has introduced a new element of panic into most societies. Nobody wants to get the bug. “Fear is the mind-killer,” as you know if you are a Dune fan. What Frank Herbert meant by that is that fear leads to irrational behavior.

So, you put those two factors together, and the unavoidable happens: a spectacular rise in covid-related phishing and ransomware attacks. And now, as vaccines start to show us the light at the end of the tunnel, they also provide wrongdoers with a new playground as new attacks, based on the people’s wish to be vaccinated quickly, try to make people give away their credit card details and their social security numbers in exchange for a vaccination booking.

Further complications arise from the bureaucratic failures we’ve seen happening around the globe in the management of vaccination programs. Logistical delays, shortages, you name it. The worse thing you can imagine has happened in some (or many) countries in the world. This confusion leaves an authority and informational vacuum that scammers and phishers can exploit to pass for legitimate governmental agencies that need your personal information.

You should know that legitimate mail (snail or otherwise) from a government agency or vaccination center will never reach you without your solicitation, now or ever. So you need to tell actual correspondence from the fake one. You can come across these phishing attempts over the phone, in your email inbox, or on websites. Here are the things that need your attention.

Telephone

Let’s face it. Phone calls are out of fashion. Furthermore, if your interactions with other human beings are dominated by text messages, social media platforms, and video chats, an incoming call is nothing short of suspicious. But people whose lives are not so digitalized yet (older persons, people living in isolated places, etc.) could see a phone call as a harmless thing.

Suppose you get a phone call. The caller is telling you how you could expedite your vaccination date (i.e., jumping ahead on the queue) if you are just willing to pay a small, reasonable fee. That is a scam. As red flags go, asking for money is among the big ones. If the caller also tries to convey a sense of urgency (something like “this loophole in the system won’t last very long, you must act now”), the flag is bigger and redder.

Also, if the caller claims to represent a government office or a vaccination center of which you’ve never heard before, beware. Fees are not in the cards when it comes to the covid-19 vaccinations. No legitimate vaccine provider will ever ask you for one. So, if the caller asks you for your credit card data to secure your vaccination booking, do not fall for it.

Try to verify the caller’s identity. Make sure that he’s asking you for payment information to get the vaccine. When they insist on your ID card or credit card information, please don’t give them away and report the number as a scammer.

Text Messages And Inbox

Phishing scams started as an email thing. But the digital criminal’s mind’s creativity knows no boundaries, so now they are a thing in SMS, WhatsApp, and text messages too.

You could receive a message with a link that points to a website where you are supposed to fill out all your vital stats like your name, ID, and credit card details. Clicking random links in random text messages is never a good idea. Yes, if you don’t fill up the website with your data, no harm is done in that way. But you don’t know if the site in question will also install a piece of malware in your device.

Do not forget how versatile Photoshop can be. You could be shown documents in these emails and texts that look very much like the real thing. So make sure you know the actual source.

But offering you a vaccination booking is not the only strategy the scammers are using. Other pretexts include:

  • Participation in a false vaccination survey.
  • Payment for vaccine shipping.
  • Selling you a pre-test before being vaccinated.
  • Paying to put your name in a vaccination list.

If you have even the slightest doubt about the legitimacy of anything regarding the vaccination process, just go and see the official sources. Do not ever rely on unsolicited information that reaches your smartphone.

In Websites

Phishing attacks are not the exclusive domain of emails and text messages, of course. Websites can be an attack of the kind when attempting to persuade their visitors to sign up for a vaccine. These web pages enable scammers to collect private and sensitive information about you; social security and credit card numbers are among the favorite prizes.

The thing about fishy websites is that they are designed and done in a fishy way too. So if the website tempting you to surrender that info to get your vaccine booking has typos, or a graphical design that looks a bit unprofessional, then the safer bet is that it’s a scammer’s site.

Fortunately, there’s a way to tell that’s more objective. Look at your browser’s address bar and see if it has a padlock symbol. This little thing is the signal that certifies authenticity because it guarantees the site is secured. If you can’t find it, you can be sure the site in question is not only fishy but downright fraudulent.

Covid Vaccinations Are Free. Period.

Are you sick and tired of all those messages you keep getting from your ISP, your bank, or your mobile phone provider telling you that they’ll never ask you for sensitive data online? Well, think again. You should probably be grateful to be reminded: no reputable organization on earth does that.

So when any website, mail, or text message asks you to do precisely that, you should become very suspicious instantly. If, on top of everything, the payment must come in cryptocurrencies, gift cards, P2P cash transfers (Venmo or Paypal), and wire transfers, then run away as fast as you can.

The one thing you can be sure about Covid-19 vaccinations is that they are free. Appointments are free of charge as well. Also, there’s no way for you to buy a dose as an individual consumer. Anything or anyone telling you otherwise is just attempting to deceive you.

Almost every government on the planet has produced an official website to offer its citizens guidance on its national vaccination campaign. Find yours, read it, follow its advice.

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