Americans are anxiously anticipating approval and public distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine to inoculate the masses and return to normalcy — and scammers are standing by.
Government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission, Department of Homeland Security, and Food and Drug Administration have issued warnings to Americans to be wary of groups or individuals offering COVID-19 vaccines or cures because a vaccine has yet to be approved by the FDA.
So far, the FDA has only approved the antiviral drug remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, some people and companies are trying to profit from the challenge of this pandemic by selling unproven products that make false claims, such as being effective against COVID-19,” according to a public service announcement from the FDA. “These fraudulent products that claim to cure, treat, or prevent COVID-19 haven’t been evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness and might be dangerous to you and your family.”
Here are a few tips to keep in mind to avoid falling victim, according to the FDA and the Department of Homeland Security, as reported by the AP:
Products marketed for veterinary use, or “for research use only,” or otherwise not for human consumption, have not been evaluated for safety and should never be used by humans.
Be suspicious of products that claim to treat a wide range of diseases.
Personal testimonials are no substitute for scientific evidence.
Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, so be suspicious of any therapy claimed as a “quick fix.”
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
“Miracle cures,” which claim scientific breakthroughs or contain secret ingredients, are likely a hoax.
Always consult a licensed medical professional to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment.
Make sure your doctor has been approved to administer the vaccine.
Do not buy COVID-19 vaccines or treatments over the internet or through an online pharmacy.
Ignore large, unsolicited offers for vaccinations and miracle treatments or cures.
Don't respond to text messages, emails, or calls about vaccines and treatments.
Be wary of ads for vaccines and treatments on social media.
The FDA is working to protect Americans from these “unapproved products with false or misleading claims about COVID-19” by issuing warning letters and pursuing seizures, injunctions, or criminal prosecutions against products, firms, or individuals who violate the law.
Similarly, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said Monday it’s launching new efforts to find and prevent the production, sale, and distribution of unapproved or unauthorized COVID-19 products and drugs.
“Special agents anticipate that criminal organizations will continue to adapt and capitalize on public demand for access to vaccines and treatments as they are developed and approved,” according to an ICE press statement. “With that, the agency expects a surge in illicit attempts to introduce counterfeit versions of approved vaccines into U.S. and global marketplaces.”
A pandemic pattern
This type of criminal activity is not new during the pandemic.
Shortly after the country went into lockdown this spring to stave off the spread of the coronavirus, fraudsters jumped to action, trying to make a buck off the unwitting and anxious. Scammers then peddled highly-coveted items like PPE, test kits, hand sanitizer, and alleged antidotes, while others intercepted stimulus checks.
Since the pandemic’s outset, over 257,800 fraudulent coronavirus-related reports have been filed, amounting to an estimated $190 million in losses, according to the FTC. The majority of activity comes from online shopping and the FTC has come down on counterfeit websites claiming to sell cleaning products, sending over 300 warning letters to companies profiting off of spurious claims and purported COVID treatments.
The Better Business Bureau also issued a warning last month about text and email messages to enroll in phony clinical COVID-19 studies. The message would advertise compensation of up to $1,000 and more if you click on the link to register. The link would either download malware onto your computer or phone or send you to a registration page asking for your personal information.
“No matter how curious you are — or how much you could use an extra $1,200 — don’t click,” the BBB warned. “It’s a scam!”