BBB advises on COVID, holiday scams

Staff report

Now that the first COVID-19 vaccines are arriving in medical centers, the Better Business Bureau warns consumers that scammers aren’t far behind.

According to Dick Eppstein, president of the BBB of Northwestern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities will receive the first available doses. Vaccines will be distributed to federal- and state-approved locations, and each state has developed its own protocols for who gets first access to the vaccines.

Here’s what consumers need to know to avoid a vaccine-related scam:

• You likely will not need to pay anything out of pocket to get the vaccine during this public health emergency.

• You can’t pay to put your name on a list to get the vaccine.

• You can’t pay to get early access to the vaccine.

• No one from a vaccine distribution site or health care payer, like a private insurance company, will call asking for your Social Security number or your credit card or bank account information to sign you up to get the vaccine.

• Beware of providers offering other products, treatments or medicines to prevent the virus. Check with your health care provider before paying for or receiving any COVID-19-related treatment.

• If you get a call, text, email – or even someone knocking on your door – claiming they can get you early access to the vaccine, stop. It’s a scam.

Don’t pay for a promise of vaccine access or share personal information. Instead, report it to your local police department and the Federal Trade Commission at

You can also get an email or text message that’s supposedly from UPS or FedEx – complete with one of their logos – and it seems legitimate. It says your item is ready to ship but you need to update your shipping preferences.

But here’s the lump of coal: The message is bogus and there is no package. Scammers are phishing for your information. And if you click on a link or download the attachment, you’re likely to end up with a virus or malware on your device that steal your identity and your passwords.

To avoid any holiday confusion, follow these tips:

• Keep track of your orders. A message that a shipment is delayed may be a scam, but if you already know you didn’tmake the order, you can just delete the message.

• If you get an unexpected email or text message, don’t click on any links —or open any attachments. If you think it could be legit, contact the company using a website or phone number you know is real. Don’t use the information in the email or text message.

• Guard against malware. Make sure you keep your software up to date. Set your security software, internet browser, and operating system (like Windows or Mac OS X) to update automatically. And have a reliable backup to protect against ransomware.

And while gift cards are one of the most popular gifts, they’re also a favorite way for scammers to steal people’s money. Anyone who demands that you pay them with a gift card, for any reason, is always a scammer. Simply put, no matter what the story is, never pay with a gift card.

When giving gift cards, buy from sources you know and trust. Think twice about buying gift cards from online auction sites to avoid buying fake or stolen cards. Inspect them before you buy. A gift card should have all its protective stickers in place. Report the card to the store if anything looks scratched off or damaged. When you buy, save the receipt. Treat gift cards like cash. Report a lost or stolen gift card to the card’s issuer immediately. Most card issuers have toll-free numbers you can find online to report a lost or stolen card. Depending on the card issuer, you may even be able to get some money back.

Every year billions of dollars in gift cards are not used, often because they are lost or forgotten. Use gift cards promptly; to avoid problems, don’t let them sit for months.

Staff report