three green and purple syringes stick out from a red telephone speaker
Image: Tina Tiller

Con jab: How to spot a Covid-19 vaccine scam

In a wave of new scams, people are asked to pay or ‘vote’ for the Covid-19 vaccine. Here’s what to look out for.

The art of the scam is constantly evolving, and in recent months scammers have begun to prey on New Zealanders’ fears around Covid-19. Messages are coming through email, SMS, and phone that ask recipients to pay for the Covid-19 vaccine or otherwise provide credit card details in order to get the vaccine.

You do not need to pay for the vaccine nor provide credit card details to receive it.

One email scam has circulated offering money for recipients to take a survey about the Pfizer vaccine. One scammer used a compromised Facebook account to solicit payments from people, stating they were eligible for Covid-19 relief payments.

Another type of scam is phone calls, including a version that involves the caller asking you to buy the vaccine for $49.99. Then there’s the one that will ask you to go to your computer and “vote” to secure a vaccine.

In all cases, the aim is to get credit card details, banking details, or direct payments.

The manager of New Zealand’s Computer Emergency Response Team (Cert), Nadia Yousef, warned that the scams do not discriminate.

“[Covid-19] has had such a huge impact on all New Zealanders’ lives,” she said. “I would say we’re not seeing any kind of discrimination in who they’re going after. All New Zealanders are targets at this point.”

Yousef said most requests for direct payments have been around $50. “That’s probably an amount of money that emotively triggers New Zealanders to think it seems legitimate, because that’s sort of the price it costs to go to your GP,” said Yousef. “So for a lot of New Zealanders it doesn’t really raise red flags.”

It should. “Anything asking for money is a huge red flag around the vaccine,” she said.

She added that it’s important to question where the message is coming from. “All communications about the vaccine should come from the Ministry of Health, or your health provider, or a primary health organisation.” It’s worth double checking the names of these organisations are spelled correctly in the emails and SMS message you receive.

“If it’s coming from a Gmail account or something like that, that should be a red flag. If you know that you’re not in the demographics or the areas that are getting the vaccine at this point, that should make you question whether it seems right or not.”

If you think you’ve been sent a scam message, Cert can check it out – they’re able to have sites taken down and prevent others from being subject to the same scams. However, if you’ve already fallen for it there’s not much that can be done.

If you think you’ve been scammed, the first thing to do is contact your bank. “Depending on how much time has passed there can occasionally be the option to recover the money, if it’s within a day or so,” said Yousef.

“Often it takes people a little bit longer to figure out that something’s gone wrong, and after a couple of days that money’s gone.”

If you’re on the receiving end of one of these scams, make sure you note the phone number, email address, or social media account it’s come from – Cert can then take action to prevent them from further scamming.

Most scammers – both Covid-19-related and otherwise – are based offshore. “We work closely with the New Zealand police and other domestic agencies to do investigatory work, but our focus is really helping people recover from them and get in front of them.”

If you’re unsure whether or not you’re looking at a scam, you can submit details of the message through a form on the Cert website. And the service isn’t limited to Covid-19 scams.

“Around the end of the financial year there’s a lot of emails around banking scams and things like that,” she said. “Maybe bills from Inland Revenue – we get a lot of people sending us that sort of thing through, and we’re absolutely happy to have a look.”




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