COVID-19 survey scams


The Fraud Alert - Don Shrader



The other day, I unexpectedly received a free wet/dry shop vacuum. I had contacted the company to purchase a new on-off switch for my current vacuum. Instead, they sent me a completely new vacuum at no cost to me – no shipping, no handling, no need to provide any financial information like credit cards or banking information. It was absolutely free. I was grateful to the company for standing behind their product. I am sure most of us like receiving free stuff – when it is legitimately and truly FREE!

One of the latest scams attempting to cash in on the vaccine for the current COVID-19 pandemic promises free stuff if you complete a survey for one of the vaccine producers, usually Pfizer at this point. However, don’t be surprised if it is for Moderna or one of the other vaccine producers now coming to market.

The fraudulent action goes like this. You receive some email or text, supposedly from Pfizer or one of the other vaccine producers, or even from some supposed government agency. Remember, frauds are able to copy company logo’s from the company website and make their request look extremely legitimate. However, also be aware that none of the vaccine producers are currently conducting follow-up surveys wherein they initiate soliciting your feedback. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued the following warning in regard to this scam: You should never click on links in communications that claim to be a vaccine survey unless the message is from a known and verified source.

The scammer then promises you free stuff for completing the survey. Sounds reasonable. They promise money, or a free iPad Pro or some valuable gift. Another fraudulent group even goes so far as to hook you into a legitimate survey wherein at the end you are sent back to the scammer group for a “free trial offer.” To obtain the free stuff, all you have to do is pay a nominal fee for shipping and handling or sign up for a subscription that will continue once your “free trial” ends which, of course, you can “cancel at any time and receive a full refund.” But, once you provide the scammer with your credit card information, or even worse, your bank or debit card information, you never receive a gift and you will likely find that either multiple charges have been made to your credit card, or your bank account has been drained.

These frauds will often have personal information about you that makes them seem legitimate. I remember recently complaining to my health insurance agent about receiving a phone call wherein the caller already had my name, address, phone number, and birth date (see previous column on March 13). My agent said that a for a few bucks, he could purchase a listing, by region or zip code, with all that information. All they wanted was my Medicare number. In addition to the personal data on you, they will often push you to make a decision because “this offer will not last long” or “ is only good during this call or session.”

You think this cannot happen to you, but these people are good. Remember, you do not typically think like these people. You have principles by which you live and interact with others. The scammers have no conscience, no moral compass, and their sole purpose in life is to live by scamming others out of their hard-earned income and savings. Please don’t be a victim!

In the meantime, if you have already fallen for one of these scams, the DOJ urges you to report the communication to the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline by calling 866-720-5721 or filing an online complaint to the center. If you’ve provided information to a suspicious website, take steps to protect yourself by visiting this Federal Trade Commission site: identitytheft.gov.

Also, if you are on Medicare or Medicaid and fear your Medicare number has been compromised, I urge you to contact the Ohio Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP). There is an SMP in every state, established several years ago by the federal government. They are there specifically to educate and help seniors with respect to Medicare fraud. You can call them at 1-800-488-6070 or reach out to their website at: https://www.proseniors.org/contact-ohio-smp-form/.

The Fraud Alert

Don Shrader