Kettering man hit with COVID scam: How you can protect yourself

Caption
As a coronavirus vaccine gets closer to getting into more Ohioans’ arms, local community leaders warn of vaccine scams.

As a coronavirus vaccine gets closer to getting into more Ohioans’ arms, local community leaders warn of vaccine scams.

The government has recently authorized both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19. There are also other vaccines in their final stages of trial, like the Astraeneca, Janssen and Novavax vaccines.

“People may be eager and ready to get the coronavirus vaccine. But, like everything else, you need to do your research and protect yourself from scams,” said John North, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the region, including Springfield.

Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for Public Health - Dayton and Montgomery County, said generally places that are providing vaccines will not reach out directly to schedule a vaccine.

“Red flag No. 1 should be if someone calls you unsolicited offering the vaccine to you,” Suffoletto said. “You need to be cautious of anyone calling you and telling you they can get you the vaccine, asking for personal information, asking for payment, anything like that.”

ExploreSecond round of vaccinations begins: ‘I decided it was best if I wanted to live here a little longer.’

Don Williams, 88, of Kettering, wants to get the coronavirus vaccine as soon as he can. When Premier’s scheduling hotline opened Friday morning, Williams called but he couldn’t get through. Like many others, he wasn’t one of the lucky few to get an appointment this week. He’s been checking Premier’s website regularly for information.

On Monday, Williams received a call on his home phone from somebody claiming to be with Premier offering to schedule a vaccination appointment on Friday. The caller knew a lot of information about Williams. He provided the caller with his social security number.

Williams later realized he forgot to ask where his appointment would be. Premier Health is administering the vaccine at four locations. After several attempts to call Premier, Williams went in-person on Tuesday to Premier’s vaccination clinic in Dayton to ask about his appointment.

“I find out I have no appointment,” he said. “I think I’ve been scammed.”

Premier Health’s current registration process for the vaccine is either through the Premier website or through its scheduling phone line.

Dr. Roberto Colon, Chief Medical Officer at Miami Valley Hospital, said at a press conference on Tuesday that reports of scams like this are concerning.

“There is no process for Premier presently that involves any of us reaching out to register anybody for the vaccine,” Colon said. “If someone calls you to schedule an appointment, and they’re using Premier’s name, that is very likely a fictitious phone call … Our facilities are not calling anyone to schedule at this time.”

ExploreScheduling begins: What to know about vaccine rollout

Colon recommends residents continue checking the Premier website, which will announce future appointment availability.

Suffoletto said vaccine manufacturers are not shipping vaccines directly to people’s homes. The vaccine is not available online.

Someone calling or emailing and saying they can get you higher on the list to get a vaccine or into a priority group for money is not legitimate, he added.

Everything that public health is providing is free, Suffoletto said. But, Miami Valley residents can also get the vaccine from a pharmacy, doctor or hospital system.

“Right now the vaccine is extremely limited. It’s not readily available at really any location,” Suffoletto said.

The Dayton BBB says to research and look out for information that seems too good to be true, consult with your doctor to determine options for getting the vaccine and watch out for phishing messages trying to get passwords and personal information.

“With this, different from other types of scams, you do have your doctor your local health department that can help give you information,” North said.

Con artists have already impersonated the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in phishing emails.

North said people should be wary of calls for immediate action. It may be a scammer trying to get personal information. A legitimate vaccine provider will not ask for money for the vaccine, North said. Do not give any personal information out over the phone or via the Internet.

“Everyone is vulnerable to this,” North said, “especially elderly people who know they are in that risk group. There will be long waits for the vaccine. And someone offering to come to your house or give you the vaccine for a price, that can be appealing.”

The BBB advises people to check the URL of links sent to them. Be sure it ends in .gov if it claims to be a message from the government.

North said several organizations are monitoring scams like this, like the state government. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is working with drug companies to stop scammers from selling phony vaccines to the public. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also already issued warning letters to several companies claiming they had a product to cure or prevent the virus, he said.

The Montgomery County Prosecutor’s office and the Dayton police have not yet gotten reports of vaccine scams.

“This is something that impacts everyone,” North said. “Oftentimes we see scams that are for some sort of disaster relief and it certainly tugs at the heart strings, but it doesn’t affect you personally. This affects all of us personally. Many of us are anxious to get (the coronavirus vaccine). We just want a return to normalcy. We want to go back to work, we want to go shopping and all those things we’re not able to do in a pandemic.”

North said if someone suspects they may have clicked on a bad link or given out personal information to someone they shouldn’t have, they should report it and immediately lockdown their credit, so that no one can open new credit in their name.

What to do if you spot a vaccine scam

If you spot a scam, you can report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker.

You can also report it at tips.hhs.gov, ReportFraud.ftc.gov and ic3.gov.

Locally, you can report a vaccine scam to your local police department or to the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Consumer Fraud Unit at (937) 225-4747.