Top Scams Targeting Older Americans in 2021

Here’s how to recognize and protect yourself from these costly cons

Frauds aimed at older adults are becoming more creative. “Scammers stay on top of whatever is new, such as the popularity of Zoom, COVID-19 vaccines and online shopping,” and then move fast to create ploys that best fit the moment, says Amy Nofziger, AARP’s director of fraud victim support. Here are nine such frauds happening widely right now.

1. Zoom phishing emails

Con artists registered more than 2,449 fake Zoom-related internet domains in the early months of the pandemic, just so they could send out emails that look like they’re from the popular videoconferencing website, according to the Better Business Bureau.

The scheme: “You receive an email, text or social media message with the Zoom logo, telling you to click on a link because your account is suspended or you missed a meeting,” says Katherine Hutt, national spokesperson for the BBB. “Clicking can allow criminals to download malicious software onto your computer, access your personal information to use for identity theft, or search for passwords to hack into your other accounts.”

How to avoid: Never click on links in unsolicited emails, texts or social media messages, Hutt says. If you think there is a problem with your account, visit Zoom’s real website at Zoom.us and follow the steps for customer support.

2. COVID-19 vaccination card scams

Many who got a COVID vaccine posted selfies on social media showing off their vaccination card. Scammers immediately pounced.

The scheme: “With your full name, birth date and information about where you received your shot, scammers have valuable data for identity theft, breaking into your bank accounts, getting credit cards in your name and more,” Hutt says.

How to avoid: If you want to inform friends and family that you got your shots, a selfie with a generic vaccine sticker will suffice. “Or use a Got My Vaccine profile picture frame on social media,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody suggests. And review your social media security settings to choose who can see your posts.

3. Phony online shopping websites

Phony retail websites aren’t new, but they look more real today than ever before. “Fake sites are using photos from real online retailers and mimicking their look and feel,” Hutt says.

The scheme: You click on an ad online or on social media, see stuff you like at a great price, enter your credit card info … and never receive a product. “Or you receive a lower-quality item shipped directly from an overseas seller,” Hutt says.

How to avoid: Never click on an ad to go to a retailer’s website. Instead, bookmark the URLs of trusted shopping websites you visit frequently and use those, suggests Tyler Moore, professor of cybersecurity at the University of Tulsa. “Don’t bother with trying to figure out whether the web address is real. Attackers adapt and change them frequently.”

If you’re considering buying from a new site, first check online reviews as well as the company’s track record via the Better Business Bureau’s online directory (bbb.org)


4. Celebrity impostor scams

Real celebs like Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber grabbed headlines during the pandemic with social media money giveaways. Fans posted their cash-transfer app identifier (or $Cashtag, in Cash App) for a chance at free money. Right away, scammers posing as celebrities started offering fake giveaways as a way to get people’s private information.

The scheme: You get a note via social media, email or text message, claiming you won! You just need to verify your account info and send a small deposit up front.

How to avoid: If you really win, you won’t be asked to send money first, says Satnam Narang of Tenable, a cybersecurity firm. “The easiest way to defeat this scam is to block incoming requests on your cash-transfer app. Remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

5. Online romance scams

They’re not just lurking on dating sites. “Romance scammers are getting close to unsuspecting women and men in online prayer groups and book groups, through online games like Words With Friends and other groups people are turning to during pandemic isolation,” Nofziger says.

The scheme: Scammers typically lure their romance marks off of sites that may be monitored and onto Google Hangouts, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, where no one’s watching. Eventually they hit you up for money.

How to avoid: Rule number one: Never send money to someone you’ve never met in person. And say no to requests for suggestive selfies and videos that a scammer can later use to blackmail you. “It’s flattering to be told you are attractive,” Nofziger says, “but it will be used against you.”

6. Medicare card scams

Scammers are emailing, calling and even knocking on doors, claiming to be from Medicare and offering all sorts of pandemic-related services if you “verify” your Medicare ID number.

The scheme: The offers include new cards they claim contain microchips. Some posers are asking for payment to move beneficiaries up in line for the COVID-19 vaccine.

How to avoid: Hang up the phone, shut the door, delete the email. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Medicare will never contact you without permission for your Medicare number or other personal information. And it will never call to sell you anything. Guard your Medicare number and never pay for a COVID vaccine. It’s free.

7. Peer-to-peer (P2P) payment scams

The rise of smartphone tools like CashApp, Venmo, Zelle and PayPal, which let you transfer money directly to another person, has led to a range of frauds.

The scheme: “One of the more pervasive is the so-called ‘accidental transfer of funds’ scam,” Narang says. “A scammer sends hundreds of dollars, then sends a follow-up message requesting the money back, claiming it was ‘an accident.’ “ But the original transfer was made with a stolen debit card; those funds will eventually be removed from your account. And you’re out the money.

How to avoid: Scrutinize money requests before hitting “accept.” To be extra diligent, “disable [or block] incoming requests altogether on your app and only use it for sending money,” Narang suggests. Enable it when someone you trust is about to send you cash. And ignore a notice to return an accidental deposit. Report the incident to the app’s support team to resolve the dispute.

8. Social Security scam calls

Scammers are using “spoofed” phone numbers that look like they’re coming from Washington, D.C., to appear credible.

The scheme: You get a scary phone call saying your Social Security number was used in a crime — and you’ll be arrested soon if you don’t send money to fix it. “They may say your number was used to rent a car where drugs were found and that the Drug Enforcement Agency is on their way to your house,” Nofziger says. “The caller may refer you to a local law-enforcement website where you can see the person’s picture. You think you’ve checked it out, call them back and send money.”

How to avoid: “Don’t pick up the phone unless you absolutely know who’s calling,” Nofziger says. “If it’s important, they’ll leave a voicemail.”

9. Account taKEOVER SCAM TEXTS

Scammers are sending fake text messages alleging there’s big trouble with your internet account, a credit card, bank account or shopping order on Amazon. They want you to click on links and provide personal info.

The scheme The urgent-sounding text message may have a real-looking logo. “People don’t expect scammers to use text messages, so they’re more likely to click,” Moore says.

How to avoid: Remember, don’t click on links in emails and texts that you haven’t asked for. Call your bank or credit card company to check for a problem. Installing security software on your computer and keeping it updated is also crucial, says cybersecurity expert Brian Payne, of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Network

Pull the Plug on Utility Scams

Utility scams heat up as the temperatures rise (and when they fall). In fact, the Federal Trade Commission says that utility impostors top the list of reported scams. Here’s what to be on the lookout for.
   
How It Works
Someone claiming to be from your utility company shows up at your home unannounced, claiming they need to inspect or repair equipment.•You receive a communication (phone, email, text) saying your account is past due and you must pay immediately, or they will cut off your power.•You get a call claiming that you overpaid your utility bill, and they ask for your banking account information to provide a refund.
What You Should Know
None of these tactics represent the way utility companies do business — they won’t show up unannounced, they won’t threaten to cut off your power without first mailing you notices if an account is past due, and they won’t handle any overbilling this way.•Utility scammers tend to target older adults and people who are not native English speakers.•Requests for payment by way of purchasing a gift card and sharing the information off the back is sure-fire proof that it is a scam.
What You Should Do•
If you get a communication from your utility provider that is out of the ordinary, look on your last statement for the phone number and call to inquire if there is an issue with your account.•Notify neighbors that a scammer is making the rounds — they tend to hit certain geographic areas at the same time.•Alert your utility company if a scammer is impersonating them.
Reprinted from AARP Fraud Network
 

How Seniors Can Avoid Covid Vaccine Scams

Key Takeaways

  • Whenever there’s a health crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers will find ways to capitalize on fear, anxiety, and confusion.
  • Scammers are now using the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to steal older adults’ Medicare numbers and personal information.
  • Don’t fall for common COVID-19 vaccine scams like jumping to the head of the line, surveys, and vaccines for sale.

Fraudsters are always looking for ways to scam people, and the COVID-19 public health emergency has been no exception. They’ve promoted false cures, sold phony personal protective equipment, given people illegitimate COVID tests, and billed Medicare for sham tests and treatments. Now, they are targeting vaccines.

These bad actors’ goals are simple: to obtain personal information, which they can use to steal your personal and/or medical identity, or to outright steal your money.

Here are some vaccination scams, based on reports from the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) National Resource Center, law enforcement, and news stories:

Head-of-the-line Vaccine Scams

Scammers call and say you can get your vaccine early by providing your Medicare number or other personal information. They may ask for a payment upfront and/or insurance information in order to be placed on a priority waiting list for a vaccine you may never receive.

            Don’t fall for it. You cannot pay to get in line for a vaccine.

Survey Vaccine Scams

Some scammers will impersonate legitimate vaccine providers and use “doctored” information such as logos and phone numbers to send enticing vaccine surveys that are offering money, gifts, or other incentives. The messages may also claim to be urgent, giving a timeframe of expiration to get you to click on their deceptive link to gain personal information.

            Don’t fall for it. A vaccine survey offering you an incentive or stating a sense of urgency to complete is a red flag. You should double check logos and phone numbers and hover over links to see if they are long and suspicious. Don’t click on them.  

Vaccine Trial Scams

There are numerous clinical research trials in the race to develop additional COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and cures. Legitimate clinical trials may offer payments to participants under well-defined legal guidelines. However, career criminals know the offer of a paid clinical trial is also an opportunity for financial identity theft.

            Don’t fall for it. Be wary of unsolicited emails, calls, or personal contacts requesting personal information. The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning in October 2020 with helpful hints to determine whether a trial is legitimate.

Vaccines-for-Sale Scams

Scammers are setting up fake websites offering to sell vaccines or vaccine kits. Some are imitating legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers. In some cases, scammers were asking for payment for vaccines and/or kits via a credit card and sending payment to a specific credit union.

            Don’t fall for it. You can’t buy a vaccine.

For More Information About Vaccine Scams Affecting Older Adults

  • If you think you have been a victim of Medicare fraud, errors, or abuse, contact your local Senior Medicare Patrol at 1-877-808-2468 or on our website by clicking “Find Help in Your State.”
  • Visit the SMP National Resource Center’s COVID-19 Fraud webpage.
  • If you have questions related to Medicare billing for COVID-19 vaccines, call 1-800-Medicare or visit their Medicare COVID-19 billing webpage.

Reprinted from National Council on Aging

Should You Get Your Covid-19 Card Laminated?

Congratulations, you’ve been inoculated against the coronavirus — and you have an official COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card to prove it.

You should keep the card, which bears your name, date of birth, vaccine type and vaccination date, in a safe place. You may need it in the future. You should also take a photo of the card as a backup, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do with your vaccine card: Laminate it.



Georges C. Benjamin, 68, executive director of the American Public Health Association, counsels against laminating your vaccination record. That’s chiefly because that card has blank spaces to record future shots, whether the second dose of a two-dose regimen or a booster shot should one become necessary. Sealing the card in plastic would prevent the vaccine provider from adding such information to the original card.

Protect your vaccine record

As for his vaccine card, Benjamin followed CDC advice and recorded a digital picture on his mobile phone. He placed the paper card in a drawer where he keeps his passport and the yellow international vaccine card he uses, as needed, for foreign travel.

But what if you want to protect your card from coffee stains or smudges from Flamin’ Hot Cheetos? Benjamin says you can keep it safe and stain-free in a plastic sleeve — like the ones used for ID badges. 

Another way to protect your vaccination record? As AARP has urged, do not post your vaccine card on social media because it contains sensitive information. Doing so is waving red meat in front of a sharp-fanged identity thief. Instead, treat your hard-earned vaccine card like you would your Social Security card. It’s important, private and uniquely yours.



How to get a replacement vaccine card

If you have already laminated your vaccine card, don’t panic. Some big-box stores have been promoting free lamination of COVID-19 vaccine cards — in an apparent bid to drive foot traffic. Should you need a COVID-19 booster in the future, you can ask for another paper record to prove it.

If you lost your vaccine card, or never received one in the first place, the CDC recommends contacting the site where you got your first shot. If you are unable to reach the original vaccine provider, try your state health department’s Immunization Information System (IIS). Vaccine providers are required to report all COVID vaccinations to the state. The CDC has contact information for the IIS in your state.

Reprinted from AARP.com

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Guide to Reducing Robocalls

Follow these steps to cut back on calls everybody loves to hate

You’ve had it with relentless robocalls, the automated messages that at best are telemarketing and at worst are pitches from criminals who want to steal your cash or your identity.

Enough is enough with the deluge of unsolicited voicemails and the calls from phone numbers that look like they’re from friends but are “spoofed” — or disguised — by crooks who claim to be with the IRS, your bank or the police.

You’ve tried blocking numbers, to no avail. You’ve signed up on the National Do Not Call Registry. No difference. You’ve complained to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Nada.



Despite your frustration, you might want to step up your game since there’s been a regrettable resurgence in robocalls.

Call volume came crashing down

“When the pandemic hit about a year ago, we saw the first major drop in robocalls because call centers were closed, but now robocalls are exploding,” says Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, which develops robocall-blocking software.

Robocall volume in the U.S. hit an estimated 5.5 billion calls — an all-time high — in October 2019, then sank to about 2.8 billion calls a month when the pandemic erupted last spring, he says. Lately these calls, many from scammers, have climbed to about 5 billion a month. “Having computers dialing a bunch of numbers is a fast, efficient and extremely cheap way to get to as many people as possible,” according to Quilici, who says scammers need only a small portion of call recipients to take their bait.

Some robocalls are legal

Amid the din, some robocalls are legitimate: the American Red Cross can ask for blood donations just as your doctor’s office can remind you of an appointment.

But when it comes to bad actors, keep in mind that mobile apps can beat them back. Also, importantly, the FCC will require voice service providers by June 30 to implement call-authentication technology on the Internet Protocol (IP) portions of their networks. As explained here, the James Bond-sounding “STIR/SHAKEN” authentication enables providers to verify the Caller ID information transmitted matches the caller’s real phone number. Already some carriers have implemented this anti-spoofing technology. It was mandated in AARP-endorsed legislation signed into law at the end of 2019. The measure is the TRACED Act, which stands for Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence.

A united front

What’s more, USTelecom, a trade group, has established the Industry Traceback Group to battle illegal robocalls by identifying the source of the calls and “coordinating with governments and industry to help prevent those calls, and bring to justice individuals and entities responsible,” says Patrick Halley, the trade group’s senior vice president of policy and advocacy. The source of an illegal robocall — even one from outside the U.S. — often can be identified in 24 hours, he says.

Illegal, unwanted calls still run into the billions, but the calls reaching consumers are fewer thanks to call-authentication, call blocking and labeling tools that designate incoming calls as spam, Halley says.

AT&T, for example, the largest U.S. carrier, says it has blocked or labeled more than 16 billion robocalls since 2016, including 6 billion last year.

Best practices for consumers

To join in the fight, consumers are urged to:

  • Download a call blocker. First, try a free solution to see if it does the trick. No-cost services from firms such as YouMail and Nomorobo are carrier-agnostic. (Nomorobo is free for landlines but $1.99 a month for cellphones.) Your mobile carrier has free tools, too.
  • Experiment with call-blocking tools, apps and options to strike the right balance between the calls you want — and those you don’t. It may take trial and error to avoid a “false positive,” the term for a legitimate call that is stopped.
  • Let a call go to voicemail if it gets through a robocall app and you don’t recognize the caller. If the caller claims to be, say, from Citibank, don’t call back a phone number left on voicemail. Use a number you know is legitimate, such as one on a statement or credit card.
  • Hang up if it’s a live person calling, as computer-based robocall systems allow. Do. Not. Engage.
  • Learn more from the major providers: at AT&T’s Cyber Aware, at T-Mobile and at Verizon.
  • Heed the latest advice from the FTC and the FCC.

Help for Consumers

Companies have an arsenal of free and for-a-fee technology to limit robocalls. Here are some offerings.

AT&T

It says its ActiveArmor protects users on a few levels. “We automatically give our wireless customers essential security features, including network-based, automatic fraud call-blocking and suspected spam risk alerts,” says Adam Panagia, director of global fraud management. Wireless customers may download the free AT&T Call Protect app to customize robocall protection and create a personal block list.

Customers may upgrade to Call Protect Plus for $3.99 a month for features including reverse number lookup for U.S. numbers and custom controls to block additional unwanted call categories. Call Protect Plus is free on AT&T Unlimited Elite and Extra plans, and also includes AT&T Mobile Security, another suite of tools that includes device security and data breach alerts.

T-Mobile

Customers have access to a free, powerful solution, says Kathleen Foster, director of core network engineering and services. ScamShield is advanced scam-blocking protection with integrated tools, such as Scam ID warnings, Scam Block and Caller ID. It also supports Sprint customers since the firms merged.

For an extra charge, Scam Shield Premium adds more control over your calls, including sending entire categories of calls directly to voicemail (such as telemarketers or fundraisers), a reverse number lookup for unknown callers, and the option to create “Always Block” lists that live on the network, not just your contact list, so your preferences remain even if you get a new device. Scam Shield Premium costs $4 per line per month, but are automatically included in Magenta MAX plans.

Verizon

Call Filter lets wireless customers block many robocalls at no cost, says Todd Oberstein, executive director of consumer mobile products. An incoming call may be flagged as “Potential Spam” or stopped from reaching you altogether.

“We have also created lines across our network, called ‘honeypots,’ to identify and observe illegal robocall campaigns, and work with USTelecom’s Industry Traceback Group and other carriers to trace them back to the source and notify law enforcement,” says Oberstein. “We have expanded these numbers in every U.S. state, which has helped punish those who would seek to profit from fraudulent or illegal robocall scams.”

Call Filter Plus ($2.99 monthly for one line; $7.99 for three or more) also includes Caller ID, spam look-up, a personal block list and spam risk meter, he says.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Watch Network

What Older Adults Need to Know about Covid-19 Vaccines

The risk of severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age. This is why CDC recommends that adults 65 years and older are one of the first groups to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is an important step to help prevent getting sick from COVID-19. That said, it might take time before enough vaccines are made for everyone who wants to be vaccinated.

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Tips for how to get a COVID-19 vaccine

  • Contact your state or local health department for more information.
  • Ask a family member or friend to help with scheduling an appointment.
  • Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or community health center if they plan to provide vaccines and ask them to let you know when vaccines are available.

Find a COVID-19 vaccine if you are among those currently recommended to get vaccinated.

Information about COVID-19 Vaccines for Older Adults

You can help protect yourself and the people around you by getting the vaccine when it is available.

  • Studies show that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in preventing severe illness from COVID-19.
  • You can’t get COVID-19 from the vaccine.
  • Depending on the kind of COVID-19 vaccine you get, you might need a second shot 3 or 4 weeks after your first shot.
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After getting the vaccine, some people have side effects. Common side effects include:

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea

These are normal signs that your body is building protection against COVID-19. Learn more about what to expect after getting your COVID-19 vaccine.

After you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you may be able to start doing some things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. Learn more about what you can do when you have been fully vaccinated.

You will not be charged for a COVID-19 vaccine

COVID-19 vaccination providers cannot:

  • Charge you for the vaccine
  • Charge you any administration fees, copays, or coinsurance
  • Deny vaccination to anyone who does not have health insurance coverage, is underinsured, or is out of network
  • Charge an office visit or other fee to the recipient if the only service provided is a COVID-19 vaccination
  • Require additional services in order for a person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine; however, additional healthcare services can be provided at the same time and billed as appropriate

COVID-19 vaccination providers can:

Scam Alert: If anyone asks you to pay for access to vaccine, you can bet it’s a scam. Don’t share your personal or financial information if someone calls, texts, or emails you promising access to the vaccine for an extra fee.

Debt Relief Scams

When debt seems like a hole you’ll never climb out of, an offer promising to settle your liabilities for pennies on the dollar can be tempting. But proceed with care: Some debt relief offers will line a scammer’s pockets while digging you a deeper financial hole.
  
How it Works
Scam debt relief offers promise “guarantees” to get you out of debt quickly and cleanly.•They ask you to pay advance and ongoing fees for the “services” they provide.•They offer to enroll you in a debt relief program without reviewing your financial situation with you.•They might tell you to stop paying your creditors.
What You Should Know•
There simply is no guarantee that any debt relief program will get you out of debt or stop collection calls or lawsuits. Anyone promising this is lying to you.•There is no way a debt relief plan can work for you if it isn’t based on your specific financial situation. Offers to enroll you without that review are bogus.•It’s illegal for debt relief companies to seek upfront payment before they provide services to you. Walk away when you learn about upfront fees.•In a scam scenario, you might be led to believe fees you are paying to the debt relief company are going to your creditors. If you follow their guidance to stop paying your creditors, you could end up being sued by them.
 

What You Should Do•
Check with your state attorney general and consumer protection agency before working with a debt relief service to see if it has been the subject of complaints.•Consider negotiating with creditors directly or connect with a debt counselor through a nonprofit credit counseling organization, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org).•Report any debt relief scams to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1‑800‑382‑4357 or going online to ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

First came Phishing, Now There’s Smishing

Most of us have heard of the term “phishing.” But did you know that phishing done by SMS (that stands for Short Message Service) text message has its own name? That’s right, it’s called “smishing.” (Get it? SMS + phishing?) And just like other types of phishing, smishing relies on the senders pretending to be someone they are not in hopes of getting ahold of your money or personal information.
   
How It Works
•You receive a text message that appears to be from a government agency or a company you are otherwise familiar with.•The text asks for personal information, such as a Social Security number or an online account password.•It may direct you to click a link to resolve a problem or access a service — during the ongoing pandemic, it may relate to COVID-19 testing, vaccines or contact tracing.
 
What You Should Know•
Scammers use technology to make it appear that texts are coming from a particular number, like the IRS or Social Security Administration, or from a company you may do business with.•The message will relay seemingly urgent information that requires you to act right away — your benefits have been suspended, your account has been compromised, or you need to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine, for example.•The message will include a link for you to click on to address the situation.
 
What You Should Do•
Develop a habit of pausing before clicking on texts. Surveys show we are more likely to read and react to a text message than an email, which is why scammers have flocked to smishing.•Don’t click on links from suspicious texts; it may result in loading malicious software onto your device that will harvest your credentials, or sending you to a website that will do the same.•If you have reason to believe the text may be legitimate, reach out to the sender — the IRS, UPS, Amazon or whomever — at a number or web address you know to be legitimate.
Reprinted from AARP Fraud Watch Network

8 Things to Know Before Your Second Shot

 If you’ve already received your first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine, congratulations — you’re well on your way to being protected from the coronavirus. But to be fully immunized, it’s critical to get that second shot.

Across the country, some people are running into snafus as they try to get their second dose. Winter storms have shut down clinics in some areas, while others have closed because they temporarily ran out of vaccine. There are also scattered reports of scheduling glitch.


If you’ve had an appointment canceled, don’t wait for someone to call you — be proactive about rescheduling your second shot, advises William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, and medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

“We have told everyone these vaccines are 95 percent effective,” he says of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines currently in use in the U.S. “But they’re only 95 percent effective if you indeed get that second dose.”

Here are a few more things to know about the second dose:

1. Your side effects will likely be stronger

Many people who had little to no reaction to the first vaccine dose are reporting that the second one packs a punch — surprising even those who study vaccines for a living.

Greg Poland, M.D., an infectious disease expert at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and director of Mayo’s vaccine research group, had only mild symptoms after his first dose. But the second one left him shaking — literally — with chills and a temperature of 101.

“I took one Tylenol and went to bed and woke up the next morning 90 percent improved, and by midday I was back to normal,” Poland says. “This is not an indication of something going wrong; it is an indication of a vigorous immune response.”

There is no live virus in the vaccine, so you can’t get COVID-19 from being vaccinated.

Participants in clinical trials of both vaccines had experiences similar to Poland’s. In Pfizer’s clinical trial, for instance, 31 percent of participants ages 18 to 55 reported a fever after the second dose, compared to only 8 percent after the first one. Fatigue, chills, headache and muscle/joint pain were also more common after the second injection for both vaccines.



The good news is, older adults were less likely to experience vaccine reactions, the data shows. Among those age 55 and up in the Pfizer trial, 22 percent experienced fever after the second dose, and 3 percent had a temperature after the first dose.

Schaffner recommends not making any big plans for the day after your scheduled vaccine appointment.

2. You should avoid taking pain relievers before your shot

If you’ve been hearing stories about second-dose side effects, you may be tempted to take a pain reliever before your appointment.

That’s not a good idea, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unless you’ve been advised to do so by your doctor. Pain relievers taken preemptively ahead of a shot could dampen the effectiveness of the vaccine, Poland and Schaffner say.

However, it’s OK to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like Advil or Motrin after your vaccine to treat side effects such as pain, fever, chills or headache.

3. The timing between doses doesn’t need to be exact

The second dose of the Pfizer shot is supposed to be given 21 days after the first; for Moderna, the recommended interval between doses is 28 days.

However, if you can’t get an appointment on the exact day — or if you have to miss your scheduled appointment for some reason — the CDC does allow some wiggle room. Although the agency recommends trying to stick to the suggested interval, it says the second dose can be given up to six weeks after the first.

If your appointment is scheduled earlier than the recommended date, ask for a later appointment, Schaffner advises. “Your immune response will work perfectly well if you take more time,” he says. “But if you do it too early, the second dose may not invoke an optimal response.”

4. Your second dose should be from the same manufacturer as your first

Doctors are already hearing from patients asking if they can get their second dose from a different manufacturer, often because they realize the other type of vaccine is offered at a location that’s more convenient. But the CDC recommends against it: The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines “are not interchangeable with each other or with other COVID-19 vaccine products,” the CDC says. “The safety and efficacy of a mixed-product series have not been evaluated.”

The CDC does allow the mixing of Pfizer and Moderna shots in “exceptional situations,” such as when the vaccine used for someone’s first dose is no longer available due to a supply shortage, or if it’s unclear which vaccine they got for their first dose.

5. A rash at the injection site isn’t a reason to skip your second dose

If you experienced a rash at the injection site three to 10 days after getting your first shot, that doesn’t preclude you from getting your second shot, the CDC says, although it recommends getting it in the other arm.

A small number of people have developed such rashes, sometimes called “COVID arm,” after vaccination. Doctors say it’s likely a mild allergic reaction that can be treated with an over-the-counter antihistamine such as Benadryl.

In guidance released Feb. 10, the CDC says the reaction is not believed to represent a risk for a more severe allergic reaction when you get your second dose.

6. You should temporarily avoid all other vaccines

It might be time for your shingles or Tdap vaccine, but you should hold off if you are between COVID-19 vaccine doses. Because there’s no data on the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines administered at the same time as other vaccines, the CDC recommends avoiding other immunizations in the two weeks before and after both doses. Holding off also helps prevent confusion about the cause of a reaction if you experience one.

The CDC does allow exceptions in circumstances where avoiding the vaccine would put you at risk, such as a tetanus shot after a wound or a hepatitis shot during an outbreak.

7. Full immunity is not immediate

It takes two weeks after your second dose for your body to build full protection to the virus. After that, you should have almost zero chance of developing severe disease if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19, Schaffner says. The CDC also says you no longer have to quarantine if you’re exposed to someone with COVID-19 — as long as you meet these criteria: you don’t have symptoms and it hasn’t been more than three months since your second vaccine dose.

One possible exception is immunocompromised people, Schaffner says. They will get some level of immunity, he says, “but they may not reach the 95 percent because their immune system is already somewhat compromised, no matter how strong these vaccines are.”

8. You still need to wear a mask

Experts are divided about whether it’s OK to hug your grandchild or gather socially with other vaccinated people after you’re fully immunized.

But they agree you should continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing in public. For one thing, there’s a small chance you could get sick even after you’ve been vaccinated.

In addition, it’s possible that you could still carry the virus and silently transmit it to others who haven’t been vaccinated, even if you don’t develop symptoms.

And there’s one more reason. Until the country reaches herd immunity — the point when a significant portion of the population becomes immune to a disease — it’s important for everyone to wear a mask to stop the spread of the virus, Schaffner says. “If we have some people walking around maskless and others not, people left and right are just going to discard their masks,” he says. “We are not ready yet for that for society. Let’s all stick to masks a little longer until we get the all clear.”

Reprinted from AARP

Are two masks better than one?

Double Masking for COVID: Are Two Face Masks Better Than One?

Experts suggest ways to add layers of protection against the coronavirus

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, wears two masks during a White House news conference.

With COVID-19 cases surging and the discovery of new, faster-spreading coronavirus strains in the U.S., it might be time to double down on face masks — literally — by wearing two at a time. Layering one mask over another can significantly boost your protection against the coronavirus, some experts say, especially if your ordinary mask is thin or loose-fitting.

“A mask is like an obstacle course for particles to get through,” said Linsey Marr, an expert in virus transmission and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. “Adding a second mask adds another obstacle course, increasing the chance that the particle will be trapped before it gets through to the other side.”


For the latest coronavirus news and advice go to AARP.org/coronavirus.


Marr especially recommends use of a disposable, nonwoven mask underneath a tightly fitted cloth mask, which she said should block about 90 percent of infectious particles.

Although COVID-19 vaccination has started, masking is still important because the virus will continue to spread and sicken people until most of the population is immunized. And with the discovery of new variants that could be up to 70 percent more transmissible, some experts say it’s prudent to wear not just any face covering, but a high-quality one (or two).

“Last year, we wanted to get as many people to wear masks as possible,” Marr said. “This year, with new, more transmissible variants, we really need to think about improving our masks.”

All masks are not created equal

Many Americans have been wearing the same cloth masks for months — in many cases, homemade versions originally created to ease a limited supply. These days, however, there are hundreds of options for sale, including nonmedical disposable surgical masks, and cloth versions with multiple layers and special filters.

Masks to Avoid

The CDC recommends against the following types of masks:

  • Masks that do not fit properly (too loose or with large gaps)
  • Masks made from loosely woven fabric, such as fabrics that let light pass through
  • Masks with one layer
  • Masks with exhalation valves or vents
  • Scarves or ski masks worn as a mask
  • Masks made from materials that are hard to breathe through (such as plastic or leather)

Studies show that not all masks are created equal; construction, materials and fit make a difference.

“When I think of who I want to wear a mask with increased fit and filtration, I think of older adults and vulnerable people with underlying conditions,” said Monica Gandhi, M.D., an infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Gandhi and Marr wrote a recent commentary in Cell Press with recommendations about how to improve the protection you get from your mask.

Other countries have already taken steps to get people to wear higher-quality masks: Hong Kong distributed six-layer masks to all of its citizens; Austria sent high-grade medical masks (the equivalent of N95s) to residents over age 65; and Germany recently began mandating medical-grade masks in shops and on public transit.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says medical-grade surgical masks and N95s, the gold-standard masks in the U.S., still need to be reserved for health care personnel because they are in short supply.

A CDC division that oversees medical devices is working to develop filtration standards that will allow masks to include a label showing how well they block infectious particles. That work is expected to be completed by April, a spokeswoman said.

In addition, some U.S. scientists are calling on the federal government to increase production of medical-grade masks and make them more widely available.



How to build a better face mask

For now, experts say you can still get excellent results from the cloth and nonmedical surgical masks that are widely available. For a high level of protection, they offer the following suggestions:

COURTESY LINSEY MARR AND JASPER MARR HESTER

Two options for maximum protection: disposable mask under cloth mask (left) or cloth mask with a filter insert (right).

Wear a disposable mask under your favorite cloth mask.

Start with double masking. You can maximize the protection your cloth mask offers simply by wearing a nonwoven disposable mask under it, Marr said.

Most disposable masks on the consumer market are not medical grade, but they are still made of polypropylene, a nonwoven fabric that electrostatically repulses viral particles. That means they should still score high marks when it comes to blocking the virus, Marr said. The problem is, their loose fit leaves too many gaps where viral particles can get in and out when worn alone.

“By themselves, surgical masks don’t work great because they’re so open on the sides,” Marr said. “If you put a tight-fitting cloth mask over it, that helps hold it down and reduce gaps to improve the fit.”

Marr said layering more than two masks will likely have diminishing returns as it becomes harder to breathe, making you less likely to keep them on.

Use a tightly woven cloth mask with a filter in the middle.

A snug-fitting fabric mask with a filter can block 74 to 90 percent of infectious particles, Marr’s research shows. Adding a nonwoven filter is important because it can help catch tiny aerosols that slip past the weave in even tightly woven fabrics.

You can buy a special HEPA filter designed to fit into a mask with a pocket, or cut up a vacuum bag. Several research studies that examine mask effectiveness have found vacuum bags to be among the best materials at catching tiny particles.

“Start with two layers of tightly woven cloth, put a plain old generic vacuum bag between them, and you’ve got a great blocker with effectiveness approaching that of an N95 mask,” Gandhi said.

Use hacks to make a disposable mask (or any mask) fit better.

If you usually wear a disposable mask, you can enhance the protection it offers by finding a way to tighten it so there are fewer gaps between it and your face.

For an easy fix, cross the ear loops and tuck in the corners of the mask to minimize gaps. In a Dec. 10 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, that simple change increased a surgical mask’s filtration efficiency from 38 percent to 60 percent.

Attaching the mask behind your neck with a claw hair clip or an ear guard offers a similar performance boost, the study showed, because it pulls the mask tight against your face.

You can also purchase a special mask brace or frame to go over your disposable mask and seal it against your face. A frame pushes the filtration efficiency of a surgical mask to about 80 percent, according to the JAMA Internal Medicine study.

Consider a KN95 mask.

Like N95 masks, KN95 masks are supposed to trap at least 95 percent of particles 0.3 microns in size. The only difference is that KN95s are manufactured to meet Chinese standards, rather than American ones.

KN95s were tough for consumers to find early in the pandemic because health care providers were snapping them up, but they are increasingly appearing on store shelves where ordinary shoppers can buy them. Marr said they can be a good option — as long as you’re getting the real thing.

A study in September by ECRI, a nonprofit group that evaluates medical technology, found that as many as 70 percent of the KN95 masks being sold in the U.S. were counterfeit.

U.S. health officials have started testing the masks. The CDC publishes a list of the brands that did and did not meet its standards in batch tests. You may want to check the list before you buy.

In a statement, a CDC spokeswoman said that even those KN95s that don’t pass muster to serve as medical-grade masks “are expected to provide source control (i.e., protect others) similar or better than gaiters, homemade, and most unregulated masks.”

Reprinted from AARP