By Mark Hensley – AARP Associate State Director, Triad Region
If 2020 taught us anything, it is that scammers follow the headlines. While we are all relieved to turn the calendar to 2021, the uncertainty that marked the last 12 months is not going away any time soon. Scammers thrive on uncertainty.
One particular uncertainty right now is when we will get our COVID vaccines. In the early weeks and months, expect the limited supply of vaccines to be available only to certain high-risk populations. So when you see an ad, email, text message, or you pick up a call and the offer is to reserve your vaccine for a fee, know it’s a scam. Listen to your health care provider and health authorities for guidance and ignore all else.
Stop, think, verify
Phone calls and text messages are two major weapons scammers use. Whether it is a vaccine scam or another, when you get an unexpected offer or alarming news over the phone or other device, stop and ask yourself, “Is this for real?” Next think about content of the message. Is it too good to be true? Do you have to act now? Is there a threat involved? If the answer is yes, you should end contact. If you are concerned the communication may have been valid, independently verify it. For example, if the caller claimed to be with the government, look up the agency’s phone number (without relying on the results of a web search, as the numbers that result could connect you to a scammer) and inquire if there is an issue.
Another thing that scammers do is make their living by keeping up their ploys day in and day out. Often, they aren’t solo con acts but are part of a large criminal enterprise scheming to fund illegal activity, from child trafficking to terrorism. And often, our reaction to hearing about a scam is to shake our heads and not understand how someone could “fall for it”.
Join the free AARP Fraud Watch Network
Once we know, though, that these are sophisticated criminal enterprises, and that the money they steal funds deeply troubling criminal activity, we could perhaps have more empathy for the victims and more desire to shut it down. See for yourself how ubiquitous scams are. Thousands of people report scams they’ve seen or experienced on AARP’s scam-tracking map at www.aarp.org/scammap. Add your story to help others spot and avoid criminal scammers.
Be a fraud fighter! If you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam.
Visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 to report a scam or get help if you’ve fallen victim.