Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has sent out a warning about a new vaccine-related scam. The hustle targets vulnerable consumers by enticing them with gifts and cash in exchange for taking a fraudulent post-vaccination survey.
The dangerous reality behind these surveys is that scammers are unlawfully capturing consumers’ personal information and, in some cases, stealing money.
“Fraudulent schemes like this emphasize the need to remain vigilant of those trying to profit from the most vulnerable in the midst of a pandemic,” said Steve Francis, director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR). “HSI has been at the forefront of the government’s investigative response to COVID-19 related crime since the onset of the pandemic and will remain a leader in the fight to prevent fraudulent activity under the guise of protecting the health and safety of our population.”
IPR and HSI are taking this scam so seriously that they’ve brought in the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the leading manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines to investigate all reports of these fraudulent surveys.
How the scam works
As of April 1, 2021, there are no post-vaccine surveys being conducted by any of the vaccine manufacturers -- not Pfizer, not Moderna, and not Johnson & Johnson. HSI reminds consumers that these companies would never request an advance payment for shipping or any other expense.
If something resembling a survey finds its way into your email or messages, here are the red flags you should look out for:
The surveys are sent via email and/or text message.
Inside the message is an offer of a gift for filling out the survey. The consumer can choose from various free prizes, such as an iPad Pro.
The messages say the recipient only needs to pay for shipping and handling fees to receive their prize.
Then, the victims are asked to provide their credit card information and are charged for those shipping and handling fees.
If a victim falls for that final step, they’re essentially trapped. They will never receive the promised prize, and the scammers have the victim’s personally identifiable information (PII), which they can use in various ways to enrich themselves and access other accounts.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also weighed in on the situation. It said consumers should refrain from clicking on any links, opening attachments, or calling a provided phone number in an email or text. If you want to call the company that supposedly sent the message, the FTC says you should look up its phone number online.
If you do fall prey
If you become a victim of these post-vaccine survey scams, the agencies suggest you immediately take the following steps:
Report the activity to the online payment service used for the financial transaction. (e.g. your credit card company or bank if you used a debit card.)
Contact your bank or financial institution if you discover any fraudulent or suspicious activity in your account(s).
If you receive a text message or email claiming to be a COVID-19 vaccine survey and it contains a link or other contact information, you can help stop the spread of the scam by reporting the communication to the IPR Center at IPRCenter.gov.
Consumers can also report suspected illicit criminal activity or fraudulent schemes related to the COVID-19 pandemic by emailing Covid19Fraud@dhs.gov.