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Florida bill would criminalize vaccine scams

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Floridians, especially seniors, are one step closer to being protected from scams related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

The first bill approved by a newly created legislative committee on the pandemic would make it a felony for someone to fraudulently charge someone for offering to put them at the front of the vaccine line.

Reports of vaccine scams are growing.

Jared Moskowitz is the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management and is in charge of the vaccine distribution network.

“People are trying to set up fake calendars, fake appointments. You know, we have foreign actors trying to hack systems. I mean, it’s just the worst of society,” said Moskowitz.

Seniors are top targets, and Zayne Smith with AARP said members are calling about offers to pay to get on a vaccination list.

“I mean, if you pay us now, you’ll have your vaccine tomorrow. Those are so egregious against people who are really vulnerable right now, and just wanting to get back to normal life,” said Smith.

Government publications are clear.

If someone wants you to pay them to get on a list to be vaccinated, go to the head of the list or if they want your social security number or credit card information, it’s likely a fraud.

The first bill to come out of the newly created state House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee would make it a felony to offer to put someone at the front of the vaccine line.

“I think this bill sends a loud and clear message, that, hey, if you engaged in this type of activity, we’re coming after you,” said bill sponsor Rep. Ardian Zika.

AARP calls the legislation a big step in the right direction.

“You know, this bill and the move by the legislature right now to really cut this off right now before it becomes a bigger issue is great and something we really appreciate,” said Smith.

The early movement of the legislation is designed to send the message to fraudsters to stop now before major jail time is on the table.

A first offense would be punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

A second conviction could earn perpetrators up to 15 years behind bars.

In addition to criminal charges, the attorney general can also file civil actions to recover damages.