25 Investigates: COVID-19 vaccine scams emerge as more MA residents get vaccinated

Scammers are preying on the recently vaccinated

BOSTON — Vaccination rates are on the rise in Massachusetts, and so are complaints of COVID-19 vaccine-related scams.

Scammers are targeting people who’ve been recently vaccinated, sending them a bogus survey via text or email.

25 Investigates learned the office of Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, received numerous complaints about the scam, which is sweeping the country and mainly targets seniors. Her office is expected to issue an advisory in the coming days.

Investigative reporter Ted Daniel spoke with a local victim about how she got duped.

“I get an email. The email says ‘Congratulations,’” Janis Hurd, a retired nuclear medicine tech from Jamaica Plain, told 25 Investigates. “If I hadn’t gotten the injection, I would never have paid attention to the email.”

Hurd said the email showed up in her inbox just hours after she got her second and final dose of the Moderna vaccine at Gillette Stadium. 25 Investigates reviewed the email she received. It indicates she’s been “selected as a vaccine research subject.” All she had to do was answer a quick survey and she’d be able to collect a prize after paying a small shipping fee.

“I’m like, ‘Oh, okay, I’ll have a prize. It looks like I can for $29 get a new iPad with a keyboard. That’s grand. I have grandsons, I will give this to one of them’,” Hurd recalled.

Enticed by the prize, she filled out the online survey and entered her credit card number for the $29 processing fee. She thought it was legit until someone called her with lots of questions.

“Wanting more information about my social security number, my Medicare number, my health insurance number,” she recounted.

Survey scams are designed to steal your money, your identity or both. And, as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned this week, vaccine surveys are the latest hook.

The phony questionnaires look legit and may appear to be from reputable pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna.

AG Healey says scammers know there is high interest in the vaccine, and they’re using bogus surveys and other tricks to pull people in. Her office has received complaints from people who said they’ve been targeted after signing up for the vaccine or getting an injection.

“We have been in touch with the Baker administration about these complaints and to confirm that the vaccine sites the state is working with are not selling or distributing patient information,” said Healey. “As of this time, I have no reason to believe that’s the case.”

Hurd says she’s glad she got the shot, adding that it was painless. But, getting duped by scammers stings. So she shared her story with 25 Investigates as a warning to others.

“Too many people will be taken in. I’m embarrassed because I was. But I cannot allow this to go on,” she said.

In the meantime, Hurd’s taking steps to protect herself from further fraud. She cancelled her credit card and is monitoring all of her accounts.

Here are some recommendations the FTC says residents take to avoid falling victim to scams: Don’t give your bank account, credit card, or personal information to someone who contacts you out of the blue. No legitimate survey asks for credit card or banking information. If you’re not familiar with the sender, do not respond and avoid opening any of the attachments. Finally, be sure to promptly report any type of fraud.

Massachusetts residents can file a complaint on the AG’s website or email the office at ago@mass.gov.

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