State warns of scam calls promising access to COVID-19 vaccine in exchange for money

‘Crime itself has no sympathy,’ Woodstock Deputy Police Chief Ray Lanz says

As Illinois continues through its COVID-19 vaccination rollout, the state Attorney General’s Office warned residents to be wary of any scam calls or emails offering access to the vaccine in exchange for money.

The recent rise in reports of unemployment scams in McHenry County and across the state is proof that scammers will not shy away from the opportunity to capitalize on vulnerability in this uncertain time, Woodstock Deputy Police Chief Ray Lanz said Tuesday

“Crime itself has no sympathy,” Lanz said. “People who commit acts of crime, you know, they don’t care if we’re in a pandemic or they don’t care if, because of the pandemic and the precautions that are taken, people are struggling financially.”

The Woodstock Police Department continues to field about two to five reports each day from people who have been notified that someone else filed for unemployment benefits in their name, a steady stream that continued through the fall and winter months, Lanz said.

McHenry Deputy Police Chief Thomas Walsh and McHenry County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Tim Creighton both said they, too, still are dealing with reports of unemployment scams on a regular basis.

The Sheriff’s Office as well as the police departments of Woodstock, Huntley and McHenry have yet to receive reports of scam calls related to the COVID-19 vaccine, representatives said Tuesday.

In a news release issued last week, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul urged residents throughout the state to look out for anyone who may try to take advantage of this new opportunity for fraudulent activity.

“People should be wary of anyone who offers the vaccine or promises priority access to the vaccine or a COVID-19 cure in exchange for money,” Raoul said in the release. “I am urging Illinois residents to be vigilant for scams related to the vaccine, which could compromise their health and personal information.”

Lanz said he could see how the anticipation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine could make people more likely to fall for this kind of deceptive communication.

“There’s people very eager to get the vaccine trying to protect themselves, loved ones and family members,” Lanz said. “So they hear that this unique opportunity is available to be first in line so to speak and, unfortunately, it’s individuals out there choosing to prey on the good people of society to take their money and it’s a darn shame.”

The first thing to know if someone is unsure of whether they are being scammed is that the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is being managed by the Illinois Department of Public Health and local health agencies like the McHenry County Department of Health, according to the release.

Secondly, these public health agencies will never ask residents to make a payment in exchange for access to the vaccine.

“Currently, there is a limited amount of vaccine in Illinois and in the U.S.,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said in the release. “Because of the limited amount of vaccine, we want people to be aware of potential scammers who may ask you to pay out of pocket to get the vaccine, who offer to give you early access to the vaccine, or offer to ship you vaccine for payment.”

McHenry County currently is vaccinating the Phase 1a vaccine priority group which consists of health care workers and the staff and residents of long-term care facilities. The county began enrollment for residents who fall into the state’s next two vaccine groups, Phases 1b and 1c, Tuesday.

“Until more vaccine is readily available, we ask people to be patient, understand there may be others in similar risk categories who may get vaccinated first, and continue to wear their mask, watch their distance, and avoid gatherings,” Ezike said in the release.

If anyone has questions about vaccine availability or what group they fall into, local police were unanimous in saying that the McHenry County health department is the agency to be consulted.

Otherwise, Walsh and Lanz encouraged residents not to engage with these kinds of phone calls and to report them to their local police department right away.

These kinds of scams can also be reported through the Attorney General’s Office website by clicking on “Protecting Consumers” and selecting “Consumer Complaints.”

“Hang up on robocalls,” Creighton said in an emailed statement. “Watch out for phishing emails and text messages. Don’t click on links in emails or texts you didn’t expect.”

Creighton also recommended referring to the Federal Trade Commission’s advice on avoiding COVID-19-related scams, which is posted on their website.

Kelli Duncan

Kelli Duncan is a reporter for the Northwest Herald covering county government as well as the communities of Huntley, Lake in the Hills, Marengo and Harvard. She has previously covered local politics, immigration and feature stories.