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By Ashleigh, K-Staff
The first COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. is finally approved and making its way into hospitals across the nation. The news was met with relief and hope—and with criminals ready to cash in.
COVID-19 scams are popping up like wildfire. On December 3, days ahead of the emergency use authorizing for the first vaccine in the U.S., the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General issued an alert to the public about fraud schemes related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Scammers are already using telemarketing calls, text messages, social media platforms, and door-to-door visits to perpetrate COVID-19-related scams.
These scams are not new, but the introduction of the vaccine has opened a new avenue for fraudsters. Reports of calls, texts, e-mails and social media messages offering faster access to the vaccine—for a price, of course—began rolling in immediately after the announcement of the approval of the first vaccine in the U.S. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas issued a consumer safety advisory warning families to be on the lookout for these scams as they seek or receive the vaccine.
“We will not tolerate fraud and scams in the delivery of this critical vaccine,” said Attorney General Balderas. “Unfortunately during this pandemic, we have seen the rise of individuals who are looking to take advantage of the fear and vulnerability of our families in these uncertain times; but New Mexicans should remain confident in the advice of healthcare professionals and the law enforcement community, who are working diligently to make sure we all stay safe.”
Balderas said the Office of the Attorney General is working in partnership with law enforcement nationwide to warn of potential criminal activity, including theft and illegal advertising of the COVID-19 vaccine. As a number of COVID-19 vaccines come closer to approval and global distribution, ensuring the safety of the supply chain and identifying illicit websites selling fake products will be essential. Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives. According to INTERPOL’s Cybercrime Unit, it has identified 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, and around 1,700 of those websites contained cyber threats, especially phishing and spamming malware.
Report any suspicious activity related to the COVID-19 vaccine to local law enforcement. New Mexicans can also report suspicious activity to the Office of the Attorney General by calling 1-844-255-9210 or visiting nmag.gov or to the New Mexico Department of Health at 1-855-600-3453.