COVID-19 vaccine survey scams target St. Louis area residents
The emails ask people for help with vaccine research or offer prices in exchange for personal information. The FTC and DOJ are warning people not to fall for it.
ST. LOUIS – As of Thursday, nearly half of St. Louis County’s and St. Charles County’s residents age 65 and over are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now they are the target of email scammers trying to trick vaccine recipients into offering their personal information.
Kirkwood’s Jackie Puzniak received two of the scam emails weeks after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The emails look professional and use the name and logo of Pfizer, the most widely administered COVID-19 vaccine to date.
“It starts with a COVID vaccine, Pfizer says, and everyone knows Pfizer does, so it seems like a positive thing. And they want you to do a survey, ”said Puzniak. “And then you could get a $ 90 prize.”
Puzniak immediately recognized the email as a fraud.
“I’m a doubting Thomas,” she said. “There was something that said that doesn’t seem right.”
Her daughter, an epidemiologist, confirmed that the emails are not authentic. Last week, announcements by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice also warned people not to click links in emails to get feedback from COVID-19 vaccine recipients.
The FTC said the emails were from scammers trying to obtain personal or financial details.
“I think a lot of people right now feel whatever they can do to contribute to what we are all dealing with. If they can do this to provide information, it might be a good thing, but again, all of these surveys are scams. As a result, users shouldn’t click links, open attachments, or share information, ”said Colleen Tressler, senior project manager, consumer and business education, FTC.
The scammers often get the information they are really looking for when they offer prizes or rewards, she added.
“That means credit card information, debit card information, and bank account information are passed over. All of this can be used to fraudulently bring charges against your accounts and use the personal information for identity theft, ”Tressler said. “If there is an attachment, you can open yourself to malware downloaded onto your devices.”
While the emails may be directed to people who have just received the COVID-19 vaccine, Tressler pointed out that scammers are likely only guessing who is eligible and what type of vaccine they would have received.
“I think scammers are always throwing a wide net so it could be anyone who got the vaccine, anyone about to get the vaccine, the general population,” Tressler said.
Puzniak didn’t click the links in the emails she’d received. She noticed two details hoisting red flags. Both emails came from email addresses unrelated to Pfizer. The other suspicious factor was all typos.
“I’m one of those crazy people who notice misspellings,” she said with a laugh.
Tressler said many of the people reporting the emails to the FTC tell her they knew the signs to look out for and did not click the links or fill out the surveys.
“When people get emails out of the blue from individuals and organizations they don’t know, who don’t recognize them, people really know they shouldn’t take the next steps,” she said.
Puzniak summed up her rule of thumb to share with all other scammers: “If it sounds a little suspicious, don’t do it, get rid of it ASAP.”
The FTC urges consumers to report fraud on their website. There you can also find more information about COVID-19 related scams and how to avoid them.
The DOJ is asking staff to report COVID-19-related fraud cases to the National Center for Disaster Fraud, which has an online complaint form and hotline at 1-866-720-5721.
Anyone who clicked the links or provided information to the scammers can report identity theft and learn the next steps to prevent unauthorized purchases or loan applications on the FTC Identity Theft Victims Resource website.