Feds warn of scams involving fake FBI agents and COVID vaccine

Federal authorities are warning about two phone schemes that con artists are currently running in the Chicago area. One scam offers early access to a COVID-19 vaccine, while the other involves people who claim to be with the FBI.

COVID-19 vaccine scam

The recent federal approval of vaccines to prevent COVID-19 infection is spawning scams that target people who may want early access to inoculation, according to John Lausch Jr, who heads up the US Attorney’s office in Chicago.

“Unfortunately, ruthless criminals are attempting to take advantage of unsuspecting people anxious to receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” Lausch said. “Any unsolicited offer to gain an advantage in connection with a COVID-19 vaccine is likely a scam.”

Telemarketing calls, texts, social media posts, and door-to-door visitors offering the vaccine or early access to it in exchange for money are likely scams, according to Lausch’s office.

Some conmen offering COVID vaccines might secure personal information like Social Security numbers and bank account details instead of cash.

Lausch’s office advised people to ignore online and phone offers for COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Actual health care providers will not ask you for money or personal identifying information over the phone or online,” his office said in a press release.

FBI fakes

Meanwhile, the FBI’s Chicago field office is raising a red flag after learning about a scam in which phone solicitors identify themselves as federal agents to access victims’ bank accounts.

The con artists sometimes manipulate caller ID information, so it looks like their call is coming from “FBI-Chicago” and the FBI’s real phone number, 312- 421-6700, the agency said. Some of the schemers use the names of real FBI agents that appear on official websites.

In reality, “victims could be speaking with a caller anywhere in the world,” the FBI said. “Government impersonators may claim to be FBI employees to intimidate law-abiding citizens into following orders.”

The offenders have tried to rush victims to provide banking information or to complete money transfers under threat of arrest or imprisonment, the FBI said.

Some victims were told their Social Security numbers had been “frozen,” and the FBI would arrest them if they failed to make a payment.

Other scams involve fake agents who convince victims that their personal computers have been compromised, and the FBI can catch the offenders if the victim conducts a bank transfer, according to the bureau.

The agency said its employees would never threaten to arrest someone who doesn’t pay them or fails to transfer money. FBI agents also won’t call about “frozen” Social Security numbers or inheritances.

“Members of the public seeking to confirm that they have been contacted by an actual FBI employee are encouraged to call FBI-Chicago at 312-421-6700 and ask to be connected directly,” the agency said in a statement. “Our call center is staffed around the clock by employees trained to recognize common scams.”

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com