The COVID-19 health crisis in itself has been quite a hardship, but recently, residents have found themselves as the targets of scams related to the virus threat. Now the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection is providing information on how to identify those scams on the County’s COVID-19 comprehensive website.
Among the scams identified are ones regarding bogus products, fake testing sites and vaccine availability. The scams are being directed toward consumers via email, texting and telephone. In most cases, the attention-getting scams seek to have innocent residents provide the scammers with funds for services or products that do not actually exist. In other cases, fake or stolen vaccines may be offered on the “dark net.”
Numerous new “phishing” scams have been devised by scammers to take advantage of consumers seeking information on how to preregister for vaccines—or how to get around the systems that have been set up by local governments, health care systems or private pharmacies. The deceptive email messages seek to trick consumers into providing their Social Security numbers, credit card information or bank information.
County Executive Marc Elrich and County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz have identified a need to warn consumers about the increasing number of scams and called upon the County to include financial protection information in conjunction with health information.
“Responding to the numerous health and financial related challenges caused by the current pandemic requires Montgomery County to establish multidisciplinary teams and experts to collaborate and take action,” said County Executive Elrich. “We recognize that scammers seek to exploit news events and cause financial harm to consumers and businesses. Accordingly, in addition to providing information about vaccines and testing, we also need to provide alerts to prevent residents from becoming the targets and victims of COVID-19-related scams that may cause financial harm.”
A new video on COVID-19-related scams was released today and can be viewed at https://youtu.be/XlX6rRxxVN0.
Information about the scams can be found at the County COVID-19 information website at https://montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/.
“In the wake of COVID-19, scammers are finding new ways to cause financial and irreparable harm,” said Council Vice President Albornoz. “During the past several months, we have seen a dramatic increase of fraudulent vaccination sites, robocalls, and phishing scams targeting County residents, especially our most vulnerable. We must continue to do all that we can to end these criminal practices and protect our residents.”
Office of Consumer Protection Director Eric Friedman said: “These scammers are clever and opportunistic. They seek to turn the latest news events into scams that exploit consumer fears and concerns regarding the coronavirus.”
To prevent interaction with scammers, Director Friedman advises residents to rely on information provided by the County’s official website. Among the information available is:
- General information about COVID-19 and its impact on County residents is available at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/
- The preregistration link for vaccines provided at County Government-operated clinics can be found at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/vaccine/
- Information from the Federal Trade Commission on steps consumers can take to protect themselves from COVID-related scams can be found at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2021/01/scammers-cash-covid-19-vaccination-confusion
- Information regarding common COVID-19 scams can be found at: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/ocp/#Scams