COVID-19 vaccine scams at center of new crime-fighting effort

Similar Dept. of Homeland Security operation netted 187 arrests

ORLANDO, Fla. – Scammers base their strategies on the times, and according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which tracks scams and bad practices, COVID-19 is no different.

The BBB has seen 96 complaints in Florida related to coronavirus, according to their nationwide Scam Tracker.

“These scammers are saying to consumers, ‘We have treatments’, or, ‘We have a vaccine’. They are making themselves seem like they have the answers to those concerns when in fact they don’t,” said Erika Urdaneta, Vice President of Operations for the BBB in Central Florida.

Situations like this are part of the reason the Department of Homeland Security has relaunched a crime-fighting effort called Operation Stolen Promise 2.0. According to a recent press release, agents are now “preparing for a surge” in fraudulent COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Operation Stolen Promise 2.0 is a spinoff of an effort earlier this year, aimed at dismantling COVID-19 scams we have already seen nationwide: scams like fake COVID-19 tests, stimulus check fraud, and fake PPE equipment.

Since April, those investigators arrested 187 people, seized more than $28 million dollars, and recovered or disrupted another $18 million dollars.

“It does not surprise me,” Urdaneta said. “Scammers are very quick at understanding the times we are in.”

While BBB officials in Central Florida have yet to receive complaints about fake vaccines or treatments, Urdaneta showed us text messages from other BBB districts who claim vaccine scams are already out there.

So what can you do?

“When the offer seems too good to be true it often is,” said Urdaneta. “Do your homework, research. Do not let someone on the other end of the computer, of a phone or of a text message convince you when your gut feeling says you need more information.”

Even if you come across a situation you know is a scam, officials are encouraging you to save whatever evidence you can and report it.

Report coronavirus scams and suspicious activity to the Dept. of Homeland Security by emailing You can also report scams to our your local Better Business Bureau by visiting Scam Tracker.

Additional tips include:

  • Always consult a licensed medical professional to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment.
  • Make sure your doctor has been approved to administer the vaccine.
  • Do not buy COVID-19 vaccines or treatments over the internet.
  • Do not buy COVID-19 vaccines or treatments through an online pharmacy.
  • Ignore large, unsolicited offers for vaccinations and miracle treatments or cures.
  • Don’t respond to text messages, emails, or calls about vaccines and treatments.
  • Be wary of ads for vaccines and treatments on social media.

About the Author:

Award-winning investigative reporter Merris Badcock joined the News 6 team in October 2020. Merris is the recipient of a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award, a Suncoast Regional Emmy Award, four Suncoast Emmy Regional nominations, and two first-place Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists’ Awards.