New COVID-19 “Booster” scams are on the rise.
With more older people receiving booster shots, scammers are seizing the opportunity to defraud health care companies by sending out fake vaccine surveys offering cash prizes in return for completing the survey.
The surveys, which are sent by email or text, appear at first glance to be from known vaccine drug companies, such as Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson. But, in reality, the fake surveys are part of a multi-layered scheme designed to steal victims’ information and help criminals defraud the system.
The scam works like this: The victim receives an email or text asking them to take a vaccine survey in return for a cash prize. The prize is often described as a $50 gift card, or as having “a minimum value of $90.”
Inside the email is a graphic promising an “exclusive offer” with a value of up to $100. The graphic includes a countdown clock allowing the victim just a few minutes to start the survey. (This is intended to make the recipient rush to claim the offer and not think too hard about what is being asked.)
The Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice have warned that the fake surveys will ask the victim for a credit card and/or bank information to claim their “free prize.” The scammers may claim the credit card number is needed for a “small shipping fee.”
The FBI warns that once the scammers obtain the victim’s personal information, they use it to submit fraudulent claims to Medicare, Medicaid or other health care insurers.
The victims are also instantly exposed to identity theft, and their personal information may be sold on the dark web.
What to do if you suspect a phishing attack — If you get an email or a text message that asks you to click on a link or open an attachment, answer this question: Do I have an account with the company or know the person who contacted me? If the answer is “No,” it could be a phishing scam.
If the answer is “Yes,” contact the company using a phone number or website you know is real. Do not use or click on information provided in the email. Attachments and links can install harmful malware.
Protect your computer by using security software. Set the software to update automatically so it can deal with any new security threats.
Protect your mobile phone by setting software to update automatically. These updates could give you critical protection against security threats.
If you think a scammer has your information, such as your Social Security, credit card, or bank account number, go to IdentityTheft.gov online. There, you will find the specific steps to take based on the information that was stolen from you.