senior woman, 58 years old, doing a phone call with worries expression Source: iStock.com/SilviaJansen

Beware: Phone scams with fake coronavirus promises are on the rise

28. June 2021 Published by Raphael Doerr

Everyone really ought to know and be on their guard against the scams and tricks used by con artists over the phone. Well, we say “really”, but fraudsters are adaptive and are adjusting their tricks to the situation all of us are currently in. Now they not only masquerade as relatives or public officials, but as doctors, helpers, pharmacists or employees from pharmaceutical companies. And coronavirus is their key weapon: They exploit the emotions, fears and uncertainty many people have in the wake of the pandemic, as well as disinformation or half-truths about the virus. Then they swoop. Some of the mean tricks are so absurd that it’s hard to believe someone would fall for them. Yet many people are disconcerted after more than a year of the pandemic, shutdown, lockdown and the shocking reports or warnings we hear about coronavirus every day in the news and on every TV channel.

Fear and uncertainty

Swindlers exploit that and pounce – whether over the phone, on the Internet, on social media, in chat groups or on WhatsApp. The police report a growing number of incidents. Those duped are mainly elderly people who live alone and so have few social contacts. A common denominator in these scams is that they play on the fears many consumers have in the coronavirus crisis. The victims are put under pressure to act quickly and urged to keep silent about the matter. Anyone who doesn’t cooperate is accused over the phone of not wanting to help combat the pandemic.

The Senioren-Ratgeber, a German magazine for senior citizens, has listed the dirtiest tricks – and you can barely believe what flagrant ploys crooks use to get the elderly to part with their money. We’ve compiled a list of the latest phone scams:

  • Vaccine trick: A caller claiming to be a pharmaceuticals distributor says that, despite shortages of the coronavirus vaccine, he can obtain “special batches” of it for a payment.
  • Coronavirus at the bank: Alleged bank employees call, claiming there has been an outbreak of coronavirus at the bank – and that the cash the customer has recently withdrawn might also be infected. The customer should therefore give it to a courier, who will take care of disinfecting the notes.
  • The money in an account and safe deposit boxes has to be withdrawn and kept elsewhere due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Unlawful contact: A police officer calls and says you face being charged with a breach of coronavirus regulations, but can avoid that by paying a largish sum of money.
  • Doctor trick: A caller claiming to be a doctor says that a close relative has coronavirus and is in the intensive care unit. A new drug could save him – but the health insurer won’t pay for it. You should hand over all your ready money, or alternatively all your jewelry and other valuables, to a person who’ll be sent round to pick up everything.
  • Public health office: Someone rings at the door and claims to have come from the public health office, ostensibly to carry out a coronavirus test. Some of the crooks even turn up in a hazmat suit.
  • Fake pharmacist: The con artists claim on the phone to be staff from a local pharmacy. They provide advice on products, sell alleged drugs and send (large) bills.

The fraudsters usually contact their elderly victims from foreign call centers. They say, for instance, that they work for a pharmaceutical company currently involved in producing a vaccine. The callers claim you can be vaccinated against the virus right away by paying a sum of money or handing over valuables. Just a few weeks ago the German radio station Norddeutsche Rundfunk reported on a new telephone scam: Fraudsters alleged that the people they called would be picked up for their second coronavirus jab. However, there would be a charge for that, so they had to have enough money on them or, if they didn’t, they could be driven to the bank.

A woman from the Main-Taunus district reported that she was recently called by an unknown person pretending to be an employee from a vaccination center. She was offered a post-vaccination check-up in the form of a house call. In Essen, unknown persons offered appointments to people wanting to be vaccinated in their own home using messenger apps such as WhatsApp. The messages purportedly came from the public health office.

The police in Bonn reports a particularly brazen case: A swindler called a senior citizen, claiming to be an employee from a well-known vaccine firm. He offered the woman a first “coronavirus vaccine package” – for €6,000.

If you receive calls like these, you should notify the police right away and file a charge. It’s also important not to let people you don’t know and claiming to be a doctor, a medical receptionist or from a mobile vaccination team into your home.

Phone scams: What should you do?

The police’s advice is not to let anyone pressurize you on the phone and especially not to divulge any private data or information on your financial circumstances. Never get into a conversation or believe false promises. None of what is said is true. If you feel unsure, hang up immediately and notify the police or family and friends.

The vaccine phone scams are often easy to see through if you know your facts. And they are pretty clear:

  1. Covid-19 vaccinations – both of them – are completely free of charge. Your health insurance status is immaterial. Under the German Coronavirus Vaccination Ordinance, the government pays the costs of the vaccine, while the federal states and health insurance funds bear the costs of running the vaccination centers.
  2. The same applies if you are to be vaccinated at home. Leaving aside the mobile vaccination teams that visit nursing homes, the only places where the vaccine is administered are vaccination centers, doctor’s offices and, in some cases, hospitals.
  3. More information on the subject of vaccination against coronavirus is provided by the Association of Panel Doctors on its online platform. It also gives details on how appointments can be booked in the individual federal states.

If you need help or advice, here are numbers you can call:

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