Catch Of The Week: Phishing For A Vaccine

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Los Alamos

The growing availability of the COVID-19 vaccine is exciting for all of us; it may signal the end of the pandemic and a return to a more “normal” way of life. Sadly, it’s exciting for cybercriminals too…  COVID-19 vaccine scams are on the rise via email and text message.

First off, scams offering fake COVID-19 themed products. Be skeptical of any websites promising to sell you the vaccine or other COVID-19 cures According to CheckPoint Security researchers, thousands of new websites themed around COVID-19 “cures,” vaccines, etc., have been recently registered.  Bonus, in addition to selling fake products, the majority of these websites are laden with malware or schemes to steal your personal information. There is no cure for COVID-19 that you can buy online, and you cannot “buy” the vaccine anywhere online.

Another big trend is COVID-19 vaccine themed phishing emails and text messages. The path to get a vaccine can be confusing, and this uncertainty has led to a proliferation of these scams. In one version of the scam, you might be offered the chance to pay a fee to “jump the line” to access the vaccine sooner.  Other versions of the scam include offers from fake government officials to claim or register for the vaccine. 

In some cases, your “insurance company” might contact you to verify your eligibility, or you might be told you need to pay a fee upfront to get the vaccine. Another scam offers to come to your house to give you the vaccine for a fee. None of these are legitimate; all are scams preying upon people’s eagerness to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Be suspicious of any unsolicited emails, text messages, or phone calls about the vaccine. You will only be contacted by the NMDOH, and then only if you have registered for the vaccine on their website.

The primary way to get the COVID-19 vaccine in NM is to register thru the NMDOH (New Mexico Department of Health) website:

Registration can be done online and is fast, free, and easy. Is there some risk in registering online for the vaccine?  There’s always a risk, but the website is secured by encryption, and your registration access is protected via two-factor authentication (a “confirmation code” is provided when you sign up). Questions about registration? Check this out:

Don’t have internet access and still want to register?  From the NMDOH website, “You can dial 1-855-600-3453, press option 0 for vaccine questions, and then option 4 for tech support.” If you receive a message from NMDOH and you would like to verify authenticity, you can also call this hotline to check. 

Who can currently receive the vaccine in New Mexico? According to the NMDOH website, these groups are now eligible:

  • Hospital personnel
  • Residents and staff of long-term care facilities
  • Medical first responders
  • Congregate setting workers
  • Persons providing direct medical care and other in-person services
  • Home-based health care and hospice workers
  • People 75+
  • People 16+ at risk of COVID complications

Remember- the supply of vaccine is limited. The NMDOH will contact you via text message or email when you can schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine. They will give you a “special event code,” which you can then use to schedule your appointment to receive the vaccine. The text message or email you receive will be from the NMDOH. But if something looks off, don’t hesitate to call their hotline to check.

COVID-19 scams are, as Mugatu from “Zoolander” would say, “So hot right now.” so be skeptical and wary of any unsolicited messages about the vaccine you receive. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

The primary way to get the vaccine right now in NM is through the NMDOH, and you must register first. If you haven’t registered, consider any contact regarding the vaccine as possibly suspicious, and report it to the NMDOH COVID-19 hotline: 1-855-600-3453. Register for the vaccine, be patient and make sure that you verify the legitimacy of any messages about the vaccine.

Editor’s note: Becky Rutherford works in information technology at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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