COVID-19 vaccine scam emails, texts target anxiety about coronavirus pandemic

Vaccine scams faking CDC, FDA or even doctor emails come on heels of 1st round of doses

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
COVID-19 vaccine scam emails, texts target anxiety about coronavirus pandemic
As the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out, scammers are targeting people, ripping you off or infecting your computer.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out, the bad actors are already on the prowl, looking to rip you off or infect your computer.

Security experts said vaccine scams are going to be inundating your smartphones and computers, and as the demand for the shot increases thieves will prey on people.

The subject line may say "URGENT INFORMATION LETTER: COVID 19 NEW APPROVED VACCINES." Or they could be emails saying you can buy the COVID-19 vaccine.

The I-Team asked a random group of people about falling for these scams.

"It's horrible. Because people who are desperate and vulnerable or has been affected personally by it, are going to be desperate to get the vaccine," said Kimberly Grady.

"I can see how some vulnerable people click on it, but just gotta tell our loved ones that and our elders that they can't be opening up suspicious texts and emails," Casey Agnew said.

You cannot buy the COVID-19 vaccine online. The first one was just authorized by the FDA and distribution is being monitored closely.

The Better Business Bureau and the Food and Drug administration have already issued vaccine scam warnings.

"They are preying on you with anything, the, the hope of getting a vaccine in order so you can continue their life as normal," said Nick Hampson, head of engineering for Checkpoint Software Technologies.

Vaccine scams can also come in the form of phishing texts or emails which look like they're from a reputable company or government agency.

"It may be spoofed with just, like, it looks like it comes from that person but when you look in the email you see that it's not particular the exact same thing," said Hampson.

The emails or texts could look like they are coming from your doctor or a government agency like the Centers for Disease Control. They ask you to click on a link to access the vaccine.

The emails are really from bad actors hoping you will enter personal information like a social security number or Medicare information.

There are also vaccine scams that may fool you into downloading a so-called "vaccine schedule."

"When they click on a link or it sends them to a website to which they download or ask to download a spreadsheet of local areas that you can go and queue up for your vaccine," Hampson explained. "When you download that document, that document is the infection, that's going to be the virus to which they can then either target you for ransomware attacks."

In a ransomware attack, the scammers hold your device hostage for a high payment.

Some people who are awaiting the vaccine said they're already on the look-out for rip-offs.

"I think I would follow up with my doctor, first off, and then also go to like a trusted pharmacy," said Lynn Rubino.

"I probably won't respond to any random texts or emails," said Michael Indelli.

However, security experts say the threats are only beginning.

"You're gonna think, I want that too. It works, how do I get it?" warned John Gunn of OneSpan. "And hackers are going to take advantage of that, they're going to get you. It's the old hacker attack of great benefit if you do or great loss if you don't. And that creates a sense of urgency to get you to drop your guard and take quick action without checking out and finding out it really is hacked."

If you get any correspondence from a government agency or your doctor, even if you think it is real, you should still delete the email or text. Call the agency or email them directly by going to the official website, on your own.

More Information About COVID-19 Vaccine Scams

BBB Scam Alert: A COVID-19 vaccine is on the way. So are the scams.

FDA Alert: Beware of Fraudulent Coronavirus Tests, Vaccines and Treatments