While national and state officials are working to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to the public, they are also warning residents to be aware of Covid vaccine scams locally.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried from the state’s consumer protection agency, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), recently shared tips and resources to help Floridians protect themselves against such scams. Her statement follows national warnings from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
Advice to Avoid Covid Vaccine Availability Scams
Overall, Commissioner Fried and the FDACS encourage consumers to seek information from trusted sources, ignore solicitations, and report suspected fraud surrounding the vaccine immediately through consumer complaints.
The FDACS shared these key points to avoid coronavirus vaccine availability scams:
- There are only two FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use so far: Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Neither is available for sale anywhere on the internet.
- Beware of offers that would “add you to a waiting list,” claim to “move you up on a waiting list,” or receive “expedited delivery” of the vaccine.
- Gather information from trusted sources. When looking for vaccine information, turn to official local, state, and federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and their local county Department of Health office.
- Look to more personal trusted resources like your primary care doctor for up-to-date vaccine availability information.
- Do not trust unverified information found on social media sites. Double-check that sources of information are trusted resources.
- Do not answer solicitations. Ignore calls, texts, emails, social media messages, door-to-door visits, and any other type of unsolicited communication about the vaccine.
- Do not give out any personal information or payment in return for offers to gain special access to the vaccine.
- Vaccine distribution officials will not ask for your Social Security number, banking information, or credit card number.
- Doses purchased with taxpayer dollars will be provided at no cost. Health care providers may charge an administration fee and have that fee reimbursed by insurance companies, and there are means of reimbursement for uninsured patients.
- Report fraudulent vaccine activity. File a consumer complaint with FDACS immediately by calling 1-800-HELP-FLA or 1-800-FL-AYUDA for Spanish speakers, or file a complaint online at FloridaConsumerHelp.com.
Repercussions for Fraudulent Offers
Florida legislators are working to protect citizens from fraud attempts related to the COVID vaccine with the first bill to come out of the newly created State House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee. If approved, the bill will make it a felony for someone to fraudulently charge someone for offering to move them up in the vaccine line.
Under the proposed law, a first offense would be punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, while a second conviction could earn perpetrators up to 15 years behind bars. It would also give the Attorney General power to file civil actions to recover damages. The bill will be reviewed in the 2021 legislative session that begins in March.
At Panter, Panter & Sampedro, we are focused on keeping our communities safe. If you have any questions, please contact us at (305) 662-6178.
COVID-19 Information. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). Retrieved from: https://www.fdacs.gov/Consumer-Resources/COVID-19-Information
FDACS (2021, January 13). Commissioner Nikki Fried Warns Consumers of COVID-19 Vaccine Scams. Retrieved from: https://www.fdacs.gov/News-Events/Press-Releases/2021-Press-Releases/Commissioner-Nikki-Fried-Warns-Consumers-of-COVID-19-Vaccine-Scams
CBSMiami.com Team. (2021, January 7). Florida House Targets Vaccination Scams. Retrieved from: https://miami.cbslocal.com/2021/01/07/florida-house-targets-vaccination-scams/