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Veterans: Stay Safe From COVID-19 Vaccine Scams

Criminals continue to capitalize on coronavirus pandemic

spinner image a military veteran wearing a face mask filling out a form for a covid vaccine
Radovanovic96/Getty Image

As veterans roll up their sleeves for the coronavirus vaccine, they should remember that criminals are on the prowl for money and sensitive data.

"We know that veterans are anxious to get vaccines and we strongly encourage them to be vigilant to avoid vaccine scams and identity theft,” says Alan Greilsamer, director of media relations for the Veterans Health Administration, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

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Late last year, the Veterans Health Administration issued an alert about veterans being phoned and asked about their interest in a vaccine. The calls were from scammers who were after personally identifiable information such as their date of birth and Social Security number. Officials sounded an alarm again at the start of 2021.

spinner image Alan Greilsamer
Alan Greilsamer, director, media relations, Veterans Health Administration
Veterans Health Administration

Greilsamer, 51, a nine-year veteran of the Veterans Health Administration, declined Tuesday to say how often vaccine scams were occurring but noted: “We are closely paying attention to this issue and notifying our veterans population as we hear of scams related to COVID vaccine.”

The VA has administered more than 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to veterans, VA staff and federal partners during the past seven weeks, Greilsamer says. It is offering vaccines at more than 250 sites and is in contact with veterans to offer and administer additional shots.

Veterans receiving medical care through the VA may be contacted by their health care facility by phone, email or text message. “If you're eligible and want to get a vaccine, we encourage you to respond,” Greilsamer says.

Veterans may sign up for updates by visiting this website on the VA's vaccine response.

Other key points:

  • Veterans, their caregivers and families are urged to be extremely careful when providing personal information, especially their Social Security numbers and other sensitive material, and divulge such data only to a trusted party.
  • They should be aware that vaccine scams can originate in emails, phone calls, text messages and social media.
  • Before veterans provide personal information or click on any links, they should be sure the call, email or text is really from the VA.
    • Text messages always will come from 53079.
    • Emails always will come from a email address.
    • If someone calls from the VA, veterans may wish to call back on a phone number they know is authentic.
  • Veterans will never be asked for cash for a vaccine or an early appointment.

Want to learn more?

  • Here's a flyer with easy-to-digest guidance on vaccine scams from the FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies.

What Vets Will Hear From VA

In various ways, the VA is inviting veterans to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. It is:

• inviting them to large events, such as drive-through clinics.
• offering them specific dates and times for a vaccine.
• asking them to schedule an appointment for a vaccine

The AARP Fraud Watch Network and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service created Operation Protect Veterans to help former service members and military families protect themselves by raising awareness of scams and fraud.

AARP's Fraud Watch Network offers additional resources, including alerts about the latest scams, a scam-tracking map, tip sheets and a podcast called The Perfect Scam. The AARP Watchdog Alert Handbook: Veterans’ Edition explains 10 ways that con artists target veterans. Report suspicious emails, texts, phone calls or mailings to trained volunteers by e-mailing or by calling 877-908-3360.

Katherine Skiba covers scams and fraud for AARP. Previously she was a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, U.S. News & World Report, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She was a recipient of Harvard University's Nieman Fellowship and is the author of the book, Sister in the Band of Brothers: Embedded with the 101st Airborne in Iraq.

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