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Consumer Alert: Avoid COVID-19 vaccine and distribution scams

Florida Attorney General asks consumers to be wary, report vaccine scams and fraud

FILE - This undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England.  (John Cairns/University of Oxford via AP, File)
FILE - This undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. (John Cairns/University of Oxford via AP, File)

As coronavirus vaccines near approval in the United States, Florida leaders warned consumers not to fall prey to scammers who want to exploit the situation.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody warned Floridians who are eager to achieve immunity that cyber threats, including phishing and spamming malware, were found on more than half of the 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices. That came from a global warning from the International Criminal Police Organization.

“I am extremely encouraged by news of multiple coronavirus vaccines potentially moving toward FDA approval. Once we have an effective immunization, the swift and orderly distribution of the vaccine will be key to getting our state and country back on track,” Moody said. “But Floridians must remain on high alert. Scammers may try to exploit the sense of urgency surrounding the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to swindle those trying to protect their health. I am asking all Floridians to be on the lookout for vaccine-related scams and report fraud to our office.”

Moody released the following tips to help Floridians avoid COVID-19 vaccine-related scams:

  • Know that no COVID-19 vaccine has been approved by the FDA as of the time of this Consumer Alert; therefore, any attempt to sell a vaccine right now is not legitimate.
  • Do not respond to solicitations about vaccines. Once a vaccine is approved and available to the public, availability will be announced by federal and state government agencies, with clear priority tiers and distribution guidelines.
  • Never send money or financial information to anyone offering a COVID-19 vaccine or claiming the ability to expedite the process. Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be provided at no cost; however, vaccination providers will be able to charge an administration fee. Vaccine providers can get this fee reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund; and
  • Report suspicious solicitations or COVID-19 vaccine-related advertisements to the Attorney General’s Office by calling 1(866) 9NO-SCAM or visiting MyFloridaLegal.com.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is also gearing up for an increase in fraud related to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. ICE Homeland Security Investigations recently launched Operation Stolen Promise 2.0 to identify and prevent the production, sale and distribution of unapproved or unauthorized COVID-19 products. To view the ICE announcement, click here.

The FDA will host a meeting regarding vaccines and related biological products on Thursday to discuss Emergency Use Authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. For more on the meeting, click here.  

To view the latest alerts and to stay up-to-date on COVID-19 related scams, visit the Attorney General’s Consumer Alert webpage by clicking here.

For all the Attorney General’s COVID-19 related releases and additional COVID-19 tips and resources, click here.


About the Author:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.