Australia’s vaccine roll-out will hopefully spell the beginning of the end of the coronavirus crisis, but people can’t afford to become complacent when it comes to avoiding Covid-related scams.
Scams where Covid-19 was mentioned have so far stolen $8.4-million from Australians since the start of the pandemic, while 20 victims in Western Australia have reported losing almost $144,000 to WA ScamNet, a Perth-based consumer watchdog.
There are concerns those figures could rise further now that vaccines are being rolled out across the country, following a similar trend seen in countries like the United Kingdom and United States.
Payments asked for early access to vaccines
Some of the scams seen so far involve payment requests for early access to vaccines, offers to mail vaccines, investment opportunities in the Pfizer vaccine, as well as fake surveys that offer prizes or early vaccination access.
In an effort to counteract scams and the spread of misinformation, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch service has published new information about how vaccines will be distributed, how the Government will communicate with Australians about the roll-out, and tips to avoid being scammed.
“It’s important to know that Covid-19 vaccines will be free for everyone living in Australia, so no amount of money will be able to buy you a spot on an ‘early-access’ list, nor will you require a doctor’s prescription to receive one. If you receive an email or text message telling you otherwise, it’s likely to be a scam,” WA ScamNet warns.
“Scammers may pretend to have a connection with you, so it’s important to stop and check, even when you are approached by what you think is a trusted organisation.”
Advice on how to avoid the would-be scamsters
WA ScamNet warns against providing your personal, banking or superannuation details to strangers who have approached you, and to avoid clicking on links in unexpected emails or text messages. Instead, go directly to the website through your browser.
The rise in vaccine-related scams targeting Australians mirrors the experience in the US. As of March 16, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had logged more than 388,000 consumer complaints related to Covid-19 and stimulus payments, 69 percent of them involving fraud or identity theft. These scams have cost consumers US$372.6 million, with a median loss of US$326.
“Fraudsters are using the full suite of scam tools — phishing emails and texts, bogus social media posts, [robotic calls], impostor schemes and more — and closely following the headlines, adapting their messages and tactics as new medical and economic issues arise,” the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) warned its members this week.