UCHealth pharmacist Chris Martin holds the first COVID-19 vaccine in Colorado Springs

UCHealth recently launched a pilot program that administered COVID-19 vaccines to a "limited number" of patients aged 75 and older. Pictured, pharmacist Chris Martin with UCHealth holds the first COVID-19 vaccine in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the Memorial Administrative Center for UCHealth on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Law enforcement and other officials in Colorado are joining the nationwide warning for people to watch out for scams tied to COVID-19 vaccines.

Some of those scams may claim that the vaccines carry a cost, or that with payment, they are guaranteed an earlier spot in line to receive a vaccine. The scams may also result in the victim getting a black market or phony vaccine. 

On Dec. 3, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a fraud alert regarding scams tied to COVID-19, including on vaccines. That alert warned that "Scammers are using telemarketing calls, text messages, social media platforms and door-to-door visits to perpetrate COVID-19-related scams."

A TV station in Rochester, New York, reported the same day that scammers were offering the Pfizer vaccine, which had not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, with an opportunity to jump ahead in line for $79.99.

"You will not be asked for money to enhance your ranking for vaccine eligibility," the HHS said in its alert, which was updated on Dec. 21. "Government and State officials will not call you to obtain personal information in order to receive the vaccine, and you will not be solicited door to door to receive the vaccine."

Additionally, Gov. Jared Polis, in a Wednesday morning news conference, warned about scams, noting that the vaccines are free and do not require a co-pay. Any claims otherwise could be fraudulent.

Attorney General Phil Weiser released an advisory warning later Wednesday about potential COVID-19 vaccine scams, and vowed the state will enforce laws that prohibit fraudulent or deceptive sales of fake COVID-19 vaccinations and cures.

“We are committed to ensuring the medical safety and security of all Coloradans,” Weiser said in the statement. “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.”

The alert noted that the Colorado Consumer Protection Act safeguards Colorado residents from unfair and deceptive trade practices by persons and businesses. Selling or advertising to sell a fake COVID-19 vaccination or cure, or an 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.

The Weiser statement also offered tips on how to avoid scams: 

  • 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.
  • Above all, do not rely on unsubstantiated claims from strangers about COVID-19 vaccine availability.

The Attorney General's office also has posted an alert with more information on laws prohibiting the sale of fake COVID-19 vaccines.

To date, the Attorney general's office has not received any word that scammers are operating in Colorado, but told Colorado Politics that "throughout the pandemic we’ve cracked down on those attempting to hock cures and treatments for COVID-19 which aren’t FDA approved. As Colorado ramps up vaccination, we want to educate people early to be on the lookout and avoid falling for vaccine scams."

For those who may be victimized by a COVID-19 vaccine scam, witness a retailer sell or attempt to sell a non-FDA approved vaccine, or witness other such suspicious activity, report it to the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.

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