There's sadly no surprise that when tragedy or something that impacts the lives of thousands, criminals come out of their slumbers with intent on preying on innocent people hoping to coax them into something dangerous and illegal, or in some cases turn over their money in ways they don't even realize.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, there's been scams circulating from testing to now Vaccines with others in between trying to convince you that if you follow certain instructions, you can get your name higher up on a list to get tested and/or vaccinated.

Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni is urging caution during these times especially senior citizens and the elderly who are receiving legitimate sounding phone calls trying to convince them of a faux reality.

"Everytime there's a crisis, there's some kind of potential scam activity that's undertaken to try and take advantage of our citizens here in Monmouth County and across the state. We saw it after Hurricane Sandy, after Huricane Irene and this is just the latest," Gramiccioni tells Townsquare Media Jersey Shore News. "During this Covid crisis that we're all experiencing, we're seeing a number of scam artists try to use the same methods to try and obtain peoples personal information and allow them to be defrauded."

Gramiccioni explains that con artists are trying to take advantage of people here in the second wave of the pandemic by trying to convince them there's ways to get the vaccine quicker, but at a price.

"One of the most common ones (scams) is offering early access to the Covid vaccine but in return for some kind of payment or shipping the vaccine directly to you for a fee or moving you up on the waiting list or offering added medical testing or treatment after you obtain the vaccine," Gramiccioni said. "It's some of these snake oil salesman type scams where they're trying to claim 'you qualify for the vaccine and in return for that, we just need a deposit, down payment or social security number or Medicare ID card just to be able to process this' and the reality is that none of this will ever happen over the phone."

Con artists, scammers and others in the criminal world will try to get you to divulge personal information under the guise it's legitimate in order to provide you with something that sounds enticing and you may desire.

If someone is asking for pin codes, your SS number, Medicare ID number, etc. over the phone, then hang up.

"If somebody is calling you about it and asking for it over the phone, that should be an immediate red flag," Gramiccioni said. "Legitimate organizations and government agencies and medical professionals don't ask for this information over the phone, especially in return for trying to get you priority or access or getting qualified for a Covid vaccine."

If something is really sounding phishy over the phone, you should report it to police or the prosecutors office and other government or law enforcement agencies depending on the situation.

"In particular, if somebody is framing themselves as the county health department, for example, it'd be important to convey that to the county health department as well," Gramiccioni said.

Federal, State and Local authorities such as the MCPO are keeping eyes on social media and elsewhere investigating fraud or other illegal behaviors and want to make sure residents are keeping safe and remaining vigilant.

"If it seems suspicious, trust your instincts that it certainly is," Gramiccioni said. "If you're on a telephone call and things seem questionable and you start to get that little red flag in your head where you're thinking 'I don't know why they're asking for this, this is kind of personal information', trust that instinct and don't follow the rabbit down the hole."

The MCPO has shared a list of potential indicators of fraudulent activity.

  • Advertisements or offers for early access to a vaccine upon payment of a deposit or fee
  • Requests asking you to pay out of pocket to obtain the vaccine or to put your name on a COVID-19 vaccine waiting list
  • Offers to undergo additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining a vaccine
  • Marketers offering to sell and/or ship doses of a vaccine, domestically or internationally, in exchange for payment of a deposit or fee
  • Unsolicited emails, telephone calls, or personal contact from someone claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company, or COVID-19 vaccine center requesting personal and/or medical information to determine recipients’ eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or obtain the vaccine
  • Claims of Food and Drug Administration approval for a vaccine that cannot be verified
  • Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, email, telephone calls, online, or from unsolicited/unknown sources
  • Individuals contacting you in person, by phone, or by email to tell you the government or government officials require you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine

Tips to avoid COVID-19 vaccine-related fraud:

  • Consult your state’s health department website for up-to-date information about authorized vaccine distribution channels and only obtaining a vaccine through such channels.
  • Check the Food and Drug Administration’s website (fda.gov) for current information about vaccine emergency use authorizations.
  • Consult your primary care physician before undergoing any vaccination.
  • Don’t share your personal or health information with anyone other than known and trusted medical professionals.
  • Check your medical bills and insurance explanation of benefits (EOBs) for any suspicious claims and promptly reporting any errors to your health insurance provider.
  • Follow guidance and recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other trusted medical professionals.

General online/cyber fraud prevention techniques:

  • Verify the spelling of web addresses, websites, and email addresses that look trustworthy but may be imitations of legitimate websites.
  • Ensure operating systems and applications are updated to the most current versions.
  • Update anti-malware and anti-virus software and conduct regular network scans.
  • Do not enable macros on documents downloaded from an email unless necessary and after ensuring the file is not malicious.
  • Do not communicate with or open emails, attachments, or links from unknown individuals.
  • Never provide personal information of any sort via email; be aware that many emails requesting your personal information may appear to be legitimate.
  • Use strong two-factor authentication if possible, using biometrics, hardware tokens, or authentication apps.
  • Disable or remove unneeded software applications.

If you believe you have been the victim of a COVID-19 fraud, immediately report it to your local police department.

You can follow Vin Ebenau on Twitter and Instagram and email news tips to vin.ebenau@townsquaremedia.com.

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