We continue to face the challenges of COVID-19 together and look to the hope offered by the roll out of vaccines. While we continue to move forward, we must be mindful of those that continue to try to take advantage of the crisis created by COVID-19. Even though we have warned of COVID-19 related scams in past articles, these types of scams continue to appear in the headlines.

Vaccine-related scams: While the vaccines are now being distributed, not everyone has early access to the vaccine. It is unknown when everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get it. If you receive a phone call or text message offering the vaccine, it may be tempting to pay out of pocket for the vaccine or provide other personal information (such as a bank account, a credit card number, or social security number) in order to secure a vaccine. However, anyone who asks you to pay out of pocket for the vaccine, or offers to send the vaccine to you in the mail, is a scammer. Currently, the vaccines are only available to individuals age 65 and older, health care workers, long-term care residents and staff, educators, and childcare providers. The vaccine is free for everyone.

Once you get the vaccine, it may also be tempting to post a photo of your vaccine card on social media. The vaccine card has personally identifiable information such as your name, date of birth, and address. Individuals are using this information to steal identities and commit fraud. Scammers may not use the information right away; instead, they may wait years down the road before they decide to use it. The Better Business Bureau recommends against posting a photo of your vaccine card on social media. If you have already posted your vaccine card on social media, you can remove the photo all together or redact out any personal information.

Unemployment benefits fraud: As businesses closed due to COVID-19, unemployment claims in Minnesota and across the nation rose dramatically. Unfortunately, this led to an increase in unemployment benefits fraud, including recent reports in the Nicollet County area. Within the last few weeks, local law enforcement agencies have received reports from area residents who received forms from the State of Minnesota for unemployment benefits received in 2020 when they never applied for unemployment.

Unemployment benefits fraud is a form of identity theft. People who commit this type of fraud use an individual’s social security number and date of birth to file for unemployment. The money is deposited to an account set up by the scammer without your knowledge. If you find yourself the victim of this type of fraud, you should act fast and take the following steps:

1. Report the fraud to the state unemployment benefits agency (in Minnesota, visit uimn.org/applicants);

2. Report the fraud to your employer;

3. File a police report;

4. Place a fraud alert with one of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion or Equifax (the bureau you report it to must tell the other two);

5. Order a copy of your credit report (AnnualCreditReport.com) and review it for other accounts you do not recognize.

You can also visit IdentityTheft.gov to report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission and receive help through additional recovery steps.

Scammers are evolving their practices. It is important that we stay vigilant to recognize potential scams to protect ourselves from becoming victims.

Michelle Zehnder Fischer is the Nicollet County attorney. Bonnie Petersen is the Nicollet County victim and witness coordinator.

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