Florida aims to crack down on vaccine scammers

COVID-19 Vaccine. Photo courtesy Bioworld.com

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Florida, so have scammers. Cyber-scammers have offered Florida’s seniors a COVID-19 vaccine appointment in exchange for personal information and a fee.

Since the  COVID-19 vaccine has been dispersed, Florida’s vaccine distribution strategy has continued to evolve, prompting scammers to be on the lookout for people who seek vaccination.

Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, is in charge of the vaccine distribution network. He has said that vaccine fraud is growing and what is being done to prevent fraud.

“People are trying to set up fake calendars and appointments and we have foreign actors trying to hack systems. It’s just the worst of society,” Moskowitz said.

Scammers have been using sites such as Eventbrite, an event scheduling site, posing as health departments to request money and social security numbers.

In a report issued earlier this month, scammers who have engaged in this act would be charged with a third-degree felony and sued in a civil court under a proposal by Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls.

“It is a priority of the Florida House to protect Floridians who just want to get a COVID vaccine without being fleeced,” Sprowls said.

Ardian Zika, a state Representative representing Lakewood, filed House Bill 9, which covers damages relating to medical expenses in personal injury claims and authorizes civil remedies for those who are victims  of fraud.

“In this bill, first-time offenders would receive a third-degree felony with a maximum of five years in prison, and repeat offenders would receive second-degree felony with a maximum of 15 years in prison. The reason everything is so high is that it is related to COVID-19 vaccine fraud,” Zika said.

The bill would authorize Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody to begin a civil action if she believes a crime has been committed. Moody will be able to shut down websites and other media platforms that distribute false COVID vaccine information and other pandemic disease information when done with criminal intent.

Last week, Moody issued an urgent message reiterating the importance of how consumers can stop fraud.

“Scammers are willing to exploit any emergency to swindle consumers. Throughout this crisis, we have been working hard to stop scammers and prevent consumer fraud. Reports of scammers taking money in exchange for COVID-19 vaccine reservations are being pursued in my office,” Moody said. “If you have been a victim of this scam, please contact my office so we can end this fraud and help protect one another.”

The bill will be tracked during the legislative session that begins March 2 to ensure Florida’s economic recovery is not threatened.

To report COVID-19 fraud, you can contact Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s Fraud Hotline at 1-866-966-7226.