comscore Kokua Line: Don’t fall for scammers exploiting COVID-19 pandemic | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News | Kokua Line

Kokua Line: Don’t fall for scammers exploiting COVID-19 pandemic

Question: Regarding the various COVID-19 scams, what are they doing about the vaccine scams that are sure to follow the rollout of the real vaccines?

Answer: Those scams are already circulating, a surge the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations had anticipated. It launched Operation Stolen Promise 2.0 to identify and prevent the production, sale and distribution of unapproved or unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and related products.

For example, federal authorities have been shutting down websites falsely purporting to sell the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized for emergency use.

“We are committed to protecting the American public and global supply chain from fraud related to COVID vaccines and treatments. We will continue to use our broad legal authorities and longstanding relationships with domestic and international law enforcement agencies and private sector partners to address this emerging public health threat, and will sustain our efforts to disrupt and dismantle criminal networks seeking to profit from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Derek Benner, executive associate director for HSI, said last month.

“ICE HSI has been at the forefront of the government’s investigative response to COVID-19-related crime since the onset of the pandemic and will remain a leader in the fight to prevent vaccine fraud and to protect the health and safety of Americans.”

Federal health and law enforcement agencies have issued tips for consumers to protect themselves against COVID-19 vaccine scams by recognizing red flags of potential fraud, including:

>> You are asked to pay out of pocket to get the vaccine.

>> You are asked to pay to put your name on a vaccine waiting list or to get early access.

>> You see advertisements or receive come-ons for vaccines through social media, email, telephone calls, online or from unsolicited or unknown sources.

>> Marketers offer to sell or ship doses of the vaccine for payment.

Do not respond to any of these types of solicitations. If you are contacted, do not give out personal information to unknown sources.

The scam attempts we’ve heard about at Kokua Line involve unsolicited emails, texts or voicemails purporting to make the vaccine available immediately. The recipients of these come-ons all recognized them as fraud attempts and did not click on any texted or emailed links (which likely would have been malicious), return the phone calls or lose any money.

The scammers’ tactics are the same we’ve written about many times over the years at Kokua Line, but now purporting immediate access to the vaccine. Among previous pandemic-era scams were those offering stimulus funds and personal protective equipment.

If you believe you have been the victim of COVID-19 fraud, report it to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services or the U.S. Department of Justice.

Here is the contact information:

>> HHS Office of Inspector General: 1-800-1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477).

>> FBI hot line: 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or submit online at ic3.gov.

>> CMS/Medicare hot line: 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227).

>> National Center for Disaster Fraud hot line: 1-866-720-5721 or submit online at Justice.gov/Disaster ComplaintForm.

These agencies provide more information online, at oig.hhs.gov/coronavirus, fbi.gov/coronavirus and justice.gov/coronavirus.

Mahalo

Mahalo to the ladies who took the time to round up all the carts blowing around in the Hawaii Kai Shopping Center on an especially windy day. They couldn’t all have been theirs and they caught one right before it would have smashed into my car. Mahalo! — A reader


Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email kokualine@staradvertiser.com.


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