FBI warns of potential COVID-19 vaccine scams as nationwide distribution gets underway

As the country begins its largest vaccination effort in history against COVID-19, federal officials are warning Americans to stay vigilant and be on the lookout for potential scams.

The FBI said signs of a scam can include being asked to pay out of pocket to get the coronavirus vaccine or being asked to pay to put your name on a vaccine waiting list or to get early access.

Offers to sell or ship doses of the vaccine for payment, or advertisements for a COVID-19 vaccine through social media, email, telephone calls, online, or from unsolicited sources are also signs of potential fraud, the FBI warned. 

The agency warned that individuals should never give out personal information to unknown sources.

Anyone who is a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721 or online at justice.gov/DisasterComplaintForm. They can also report fraud to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.

A pharmacist fills a syringe to prepare a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for frontline health care workers at a vaccination site at Torrance Memorial Medical Center on Dec. 19, 2020 in Torrance, California. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/A

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized two vaccines for emergency use this month in the U.S. The first, developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, began arriving at hospitals and long-term care facilities last week and started being used. A second vaccine produced by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health received approval Dec. 18 and also started arriving at sites nationwide.

The first wave of vaccinations across the country will be for front-line health workers and elder-care patients, with hundreds of millions more shots needed over the coming months to protect most Americans.

Top lawmakers began receiving doses of the vaccine publicly, including Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in an effort to convince Americans that the vaccines are safe and effective against COVID-19. 

President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, also received the vaccine Monday. 

To date, nearly 18 million Americans have contracted the virus, and more than 317,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.

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This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.