Colorado attorney general issues warning about COVID-19 vaccination scams

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Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser on Wednesday issued a press release advising citizens to be on the lookout for potential COVID-19 vaccine scams.

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for individuals 16 years of age and older, and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for individuals 18 years of age and older are the only two FDA-approved COVID vaccines available right now.

A third vaccine — from AstraZeneca — likely won’t be approved and available in the U.S. until April.

In the release, Weiser stated that Colorado will enforce laws prohibiting fraudulent or deceptive sales of fake COVID-19 vaccines and cures.

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“We are committed to ensuring the medical safety and security of all Coloradans,” Weiser said in a press release. “As such, we will take seriously the sale or advertising of fake COVID-19 vaccinations and we will bring legal action against those who engage in such illegal conduct.”

Colorado residents are protected by the Colorado Consumer Protection Act which acts as a safeguard from unfair and deceptive trade practices by persons or businesses. Selling or advertisement of fake COVID-19 vaccination, cure, or appointment to receive a vaccination is punishable by a civil penalty of up to $20,000 per violation, or $50,000 per violation against an older person.

Weiser said efforts to warn Coloradans of such scams is a proactive measure, as this phenomena is predictable.

“We’ve already been hearing about efforts like the ones we are warning about,” Weiser said. “Anything you can imagine related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen scams related to it, including people pretending to be public health workers doing contact tracing. Any time there are hopes or fears people have, scammers are going to be quick to prey on those hopes and fears.”

Weiser said the pandemic has given scammers opportunities to scare people into giving money and personal information.

He said that practicing COVID precautions prior to getting vaccinated can help prevent the spread of the virus as well as prevent opportunities for people to be scammed.

“We want to make sure we help build greater vigilance and sound personal hygiene practices so that people don’t end up being victims of a scam and have to figure out how to get their identity back or how to recover lost funds,” he said.

The Attorney General’s Office offered basic tips to identify vaccine related scams including:

  • Do not respond to unsolicited e-mails, text messages, advertisements, or telephone calls offering to sell COVID-19 vaccines or other cures or treatment.
  • Do not pay for a COVID-19 vaccine. You will not have to pay for the vaccine itself, although you may be charged a small fee for administration of the vaccine — any offer to “sell” a vaccine is a scam.
  • Beware of any attempt to sell you an appointment for the approved vaccine.
  • Before responding to communications from a doctor, pharmacy, health department, or other health care practitioner, verify the source of that communication. 
  • Talk to your doctor to receive accurate information on when a vaccine will be available for you.
  • Do not rely on unsubstantiated claims from strangers about COVID-19 vaccine availability.

More information about potential scams, how to avoid them and laws prohibiting the sale of fake COVID-19 vaccines can be found at bit.ly/VaccineAdvisory.

Ideally, Weiser noted, the advisory warning will keep Coloradans on guard for these types of scams.

“We are all in this together,” Weiser said. “The best spirit of Colorado is one of collaboration and a sense of collective responsibility. A lot of the older Coloradans who may be more trusting and willing to pick up the phone are going to be those who are most preyed on and victims of such scams.

“Whether it’s your parents or grandparents, anyone you know who is vulnerable — please encourage them to be on their guard.”

If you believe you have been victimized by a COVID-19 vaccine scam, have witnessed a retailer sell or attempt to sell a non-FDA approved vaccine, or have witnessed other suspicious activity to report it at stopfraudcolorado.gov.

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Chieftain reporter Alexis Smith can be reached by email at asmith@chieftain.com or on Twitter @smith_alexis27.