Scammers continue to create new ways to trick consumers using COVID-19

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This picture taken on November 17, 2020 shows a syringe and a bottle reading “Vaccine Covid-19. (Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — As the country works to end the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers capitalizing over the past year show no sign of slowing down.

According to the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, complaints about scams related to COVID-19 continue to increase.

“The scammers follow trends,” Director of Consumer Protection Scott Barnhart said. “They follow the news and they look for opportunities.”

Recently, Barnhart’s team sent out a warning about a new scam related to vaccinations. Scammers sent emails and text messages asking consumers to fill out a survey about a specific vaccine, with the promise of a free product. Consumers were told to pay an upfront shipping and handling fee, then never received anything in exchange.

“Consumers need to examine the message to make sure that it’s from a trusted source,” Barnhart said.

Additionally, the Better Business Bureau warned that scammers will likely begin peddling fake vaccination cards or passports as businesses or governments require proof of vaccination in the coming months.

Columbus resident Shelby Sizemore contacted CBS4 about a recent scam that she received via text message. Sizemore, who is deaf, frequently communicates via text and believed she had been contacted by someone who wanted to help her family.

The text, supposedly from non-profit Direct Relief International, claimed Sizemore qualified for a COVID-19 palliative relief fund. She was directed to a link, where she filled out a survey with personal information, including a social security number.

“They wanted all this personal information so they could take it and use it for themselves,” Sizemore said.

Sizemore, who initially searched for the non-profit but did not contact anyone, later called the organization and confirmed they were being impersonated by scammers.

“If you get something, call the place first. Don’t just take what’s being said to you, call that place and ask them is this really what’s going on,” Sizemore said.

Barnhart suggested you beware any unsolicited text messages, emails or phone calls, especially if they ask for payment or personal information.

“They’re trying to take advantage of a consumer that’s not double checking to make sure that it’s coming from a legitimate source,” Barnhart said.

If you come across a scam, even if you don’t fall for it, you can report it to the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Better Business Bureau.

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