Key Takeaways

  • Although vaccines have been available for some time now, scammers are still trying to to capitalize on COVID fear, anxiety, and confusion.

  • Scammers use COVID vaccine scams to steal older adults’ Medicare numbers and personal information.

  • You can protect yourself by ignoring suspicious communications and never sharing your personal information with people you don’t know.

Fraudsters are always looking for ways to scam people, and the COVID-19 public health emergency was n no exception. Scammers have promoted false cures, sold phony personal protective equipment, given people illegitimate COVID tests, and billed Medicare for sham tests and treatments. Now, they are targeting vaccines.

Even years after the pandemic began, con artists continue to use vaccine scams to swindle unsuspecting consumers. "When it comes to being a scammer, it's a full-time job," said Genevieve Waterman, Director of Corporate Partnerships and Engagement at NCOA.

These bad actors’ goals are simple: to get their hands on your sensitive personal information. This information can then be used to steal your personal and/or medical identity—or to outright steal your money by hacking into your private bank accounts. But you can stop scammers in their tracks by empowering yourself with knowledge.

These tips can help you avoid COVID vaccine scams and keep your information safe:

Ignore ads for the COVID vaccine

Scammers set up fake websites or make social media posts offering to sell vaccines or vaccine kits. Some are imitating legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers. In certain cases, they ask for payment for vaccines and/or kits via a credit card, or they may ask you to send payment to a specific credit union.

Don’t fall for it. You can’t buy a COVID vaccine (even from an online pharmacy). It's only available at approved locations, such as pharmacies and community-based vaccination clinics. Plus, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, all recommended adult vaccines covered under Part D—including COVID vaccines—are free. If you have Medicare, you should pay nothing out of pocket to receive a COVID shot.

Never pay to sign up for the vaccine

Do not respond to anyone who calls, texts, or emails you asking for money to make a vaccination appointment on your behalf (or reserve your spot in line for vaccination). You do not need to pay money to sign up for a vaccine appointment, and that person is most likely a scammer.

Do not click on links in unexpected text messages

Scammers often use text messaging to contact older adults. If you receive a text that seems to be from your doctor or pharmacist, do not respond to it or click on any links it may contain. Instead, call the practice or pharmacy directly to make sure the text is legitimate.

Do not open emails from unknown senders

Beware of unsolicited emails, especially those requesting personal information. For example, some scammers impersonate legitimate organizations—like vaccine manufacturers or even Medicare—very cleverly. They use “doctored” information such as logos and phone numbers to send enticing COVID vaccine surveys offering money, gifts, or other incentives.

As a rule of thumb, do not open email messages from unknown senders, even if the communication looks authentic. If you do accidentally open the email, do not click on any links in the message or open any attachments. Doing so could download malware onto your device, which can then be used by fraudsters to steal your private information.

Do not share your personal information with people you don’t know

Be suspicious of anyone who calls, texts, or emails you asking for personal information such as your credit card number, banking information, Social Security number, or Medicare card number. They may claim they're going to "sign you up" for the COVID vaccine or enroll you in a clinical trial for new COVID vaccines, treatments, and cures. This is likely a scammer looking for an opportunity for financial identity theft. If you’re curious about a communication that looks real, always play it safe. Look up the sender's number using an official source and call them directly to verify what they sent.

Learn more about COVID and other scams affecting older adults