With the US in the early stages of distributing COVID-19 vaccines, Los Angeles City attorney Mike Feuer warns residents, “Don’t pay for the promise to get access to the vaccine.”
Supplies are scarce, mass vaccination is months away and scams are already surfacing in Europe.
Currently, California is prioritizing high-risk healthcare and skilled care workers with the limited number of doses. Officials estimate that approximately 3 million Californians will be vaccinated by this time.
California’s teachers, first responders, and food and restaurant workers are expected to receive the next round of vaccinations – a phase the state plans to vaccinate about 8 million residents.
In a state of around 40 million people, that means the majority of people will not have access to the vaccine in the coming months.
The prosecutor warns that this will lead to fraud.
“While the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine is great news, it won’t be widely available until late spring or early summer,” Feuer said in a video statement. “In the meantime, there will be a wait – and this is certainly an opportunity for scammers to sell you counterfeit vaccines that are ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.”
During the pandemic, there were reports of fraud involving fake coronavirus test kits, contact tracers, and so-called remedies and treatments.
In one case in May, LA city attorney sued a company for allegedly selling radish paste as a COVID-19 prevention. In another case, a man was arrested on suspicion of falsely claiming to have developed a coronavirus prevention pill and injectable cure for those infected.
Interpol has alerted law enforcement agencies to prepare for organized crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines. The pandemic has “already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behavior”.
One concern is that there will be fake COVID-19 vaccines being sold to unsuspecting residents.
“Counterfeit vaccines that haven’t been tested or clinically tested can make you sick,” Fire warned.
European Union police agency Europol said on December 4 it had already found advertisements for counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines on the internet. The agency shared a picture of a listing of counterfeit Pfizer vaccine doses sold for Bitcoin.
“The number of offers is currently limited, but is likely to increase once a legitimate vaccine is available,” said Europol representatives at the time.
Fire urged residents to report fraud to the FTC or contact the LA Attorney’s Office online.
“When you get a phone call, or a text, or an email, or even someone knocks on your door claiming they can give you early access to the vaccine or they know someone who can. It’s a scam, ”said Fire.
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