Homeland Security investigating scams related to new COVID-19 vaccines

National/World

NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — COVID-19 vaccines are on the way — and so are the vaccine scams.

Security experts are warning Americans to be on their guard and avoid offers that sound too good to be true. It turns out there are a lot of them.

Investigators with the Department of Homeland Security have been working coronavirus-related cons since April, when they rolled out “Operation Stolen Promise.” Since then, they’ve analyzed more than 70,000 websites suspected of being involved in COVID-19-related fraud.

They’re now working with Pfizer, Moderna and dozens of other companies on the safe distribution of COVID-19 vaccines while preparing for the new schemes they know are on the way.

One surfaced this week: a robocall which proclaims, “You have the chance to avoid anticipated long lines and get a single dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine sent to your home for a one-time payment of $79.99.”

That’s a call to hang up on.

And while many people say they can’t believe anyone would respond to an offer like that, countless people do. For those who suspend disbelief, unable to comprehend that anyone would stoop low enough to steal from the unsuspecting during a deadly pandemic, the message from cybersecurity experts is: believe it.

“’Tis the season of scams,” Mike Stamas of GreyCastle Security told NewsNation affiliate WROC. “Whatever criminals can do to hit that nerve that forces you to do something, they’ll do it.”

Most of us may only be obliquely aware of the problem, but the agencies that monitor this type of activity say they traditionally see a big uptick over the holidays. This year, with coronavirus vaccines in the pipeline, it’s like a double Christmas for cyberthieves.

The Food and Drug Administration has released a video about COVID-19 fraud and the Federal Trade Commission comes out with regular advisories.

The agency says complaints about scams on social media have more than tripled this year over last.

It has been sending warning letters to companies making unproven claims about coronavirus treatments since March.

The advice from the Better Business Bureau is simple: If you get any kind of offer, do your research, check with your doctor and ignore any claim that demands you take immediate action.

The federal government says with a real treatment on the horizon, frauds are spreading almost as quickly as the virus itself, but they’re watching.

“We’re working very closely with the pharmaceutical companies to ensure and protect that supply chain and to assure the American public is safe,” said Steve Francis, Director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, an Arlington, VA-based agency overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Since the launch of “Operation Stolen Promise,” agents have seized millions of fake or unapproved pieces of personal protective equipment and antiviral pharmaceuticals. At least 185 people have been arrested. 

As busy as they’ve been, the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines promises to take their work to an entirely new level.

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