Cybersecurity experts warn of COVID-19 vaccine scams sent by text, email

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As health agencies around the country begin administering the coronavirus vaccine to millions of people, cybersecurity experts are warning consumers that scammers may be getting busy as well in the hopes of taking advantage of consumers eager for a vaccine.

Early in the pandemic, the Better Business Bureau shared reports of advertisements attempting to sell consumers lotions, sprays and even incense that the advertisements alleged would help cure COVID-19, despite doctors' warnings these remedies would not work.

Now cybersecurity agencies are warning consumers about a new scam that could involve individuals posing as health officials or doctors and offering to sell a coronavirus vaccine or to help consumers track when they may be eligible to receive it.

The experts warn these texts, emails and advertisements could be scammers' attempts to steal individuals' identities, install a virus on consumers' devices, and ultimately, make a buck.

"They are looking for you to answer an email," said Nick Hampson, head of engineering for Checkpoint Software Technologies, a company that works to make the internet more secure. "They are going to change their techniques according to the headlines and what is topical at that point."

Experts say these emails or texts may look like they're coming from a doctor or a government agency such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and warn consumers to be wary about opening these kinds of messages on their devices.

The messages may ask recipients to click on a link to access a coronavirus vaccine and prompt users to enter personal details like a social security number or Medicare information, allowing scammers to steal those individuals' identity and attempt to steal their money.

Experts add that other attempts at theft may be more discreet, asking consumers to open a link that secretly installs a virus on their device.

The Food and Drug Administration has also issued an alert telling consumers to be careful.

"It's the old hacker attack of great benefit if you do or great loss if you don't," said John Gunn, a spokesperson for the online security company OneSpan.

Gunn says scammers often prey on consumers' emotions.

"They create this sense of urgency to get you to drop your guard and take action," Gunn said.

The BBB is advising everyone to be skeptical of alerts and emails regarding a vaccine and to confirm the accuracy of any information regarding a vaccine from a separate source.

The BBB also recommends individuals reach out directly to their doctors before taking any action, be the one to initiate contact with a doctor, and ignore any calls for immediate action.

Finally, the BBB reminds users to check the URL on websites to make sure the website is the real thing and not a fake imitating a health care agency that users trust.
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