COVID vaccine scams: Here’s how to avoid them

MADISON, Wis. — The state’s top consumer protection leaders are warning folks to be on the lookout for any scams related to COVID vaccines.

You can’t buy the vaccine. That’s the number one message the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection wants Wisconsinites to hear as it warns of the potential for more COVID vaccines. It’s only available at federal- and state-approved locations, like health-care clinics, local health departments and community vaccination centers.

We asked DATCP whether it’s seen evidence of vaccine scams here in Wisconsin yet.

“We are certainly concerned that as people are on the internet looking for information on how soon they’re available when they can get the vaccine, [there will be scams] with promises of getting you on the list if you pay us – that sort of thing,” said Lara Sutherlin of the Division of Trade and Consumer Protection.

The department couldn’t get us vaccine-related scam numbers, but the Federal Trade Commission has reported nearly 3,000 COVID-related scams in Wisconsin over the last year. DATCP says that’s generally the tip of the iceberg.

“The complaints themselves are the tip of the iceberg,” Sutherlin said. “For every complaint to the Federal Trade Commission in Wisconsin, there are hundreds more people who have been scammed who aren’t complaining.”
DATCP has some simple advice to avoid this scam and others.

1. Use reliable information when it comes to the latest on vaccines. That means your doctor, your local health department and your local news outlet. It does not mean social media.

2. Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails, or texts.

3. Again – you will never pay out-of-pocket to get the COVID vaccine. The federal government will not call, text, or email you looking for personal or financial information — so don’t hand it out. Sutherlin also reminds us to be wary when it comes to health care communications.

“If you’re getting contacted from your health care provider that doesn’t look familiar to you, it’s not the way you’re typically connected to them, use the sources of information to connect with your provider that you’re familiar with,” Sutherlin said. “Use the phone number you know, the MyChart, the email, what have you – but you take charge of getting information. You be the initiator and you go to the source you trust. That’s the main way to keep yourself safe.”

Our state watchdogs want to hear from you if you’ve gotten caught up in a scam. The DATCP hotline is 1-800-422-7128.