10 Myths About Coronavirus Vaccines

Separating fact from fiction when it comes to getting vaccinated against Covid.

More than 207 million Americans have rolled up their sleeves for the coronavirus vaccines, but still a significant share of the eligible population hasn’t been vaccinated.

A big reason: False information spread online and in person has persuaded many people to skip the shot. In fact, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report found about 80 percent of adults who say they will “definitely not” get the vaccine believe or are unsure about at least one prevailing COVID-19 vaccine myth. And a majority of adults (54 percent) either believe some rampant misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines or are unable to debunk it.

Facts are especially important as new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths climb throughout the U.S., driven largely by the highly contagious delta variant. Here are some common coronavirus vaccine myths and the truth behind each one.



  • Myth #1: The vaccines were developed too quickly to be trusted.

It’s true that the COVID-19 vaccines arrived in record time, but the steps that were hurried “were essentially the paperwork,” Andrew Bradley, M.D., a vaccine expert and professor at Mayo Clinic, explained in a recent media briefing.

All three available vaccines in the U.S. — from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — were tested in tens of thousands of people in clinical trials and rigorously evaluated for their safety and effectiveness.

Scientists had a bit of a leg-up from the beginning, which helped to accelerate the process. The virus that causes COVID-19 is related to other coronaviruses that have been under the microscope for years, including those that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). “The knowledge gained through past research on coronavirus vaccines helped to accelerate the initial development of the current COVID-19 vaccines,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.

Investing in early manufacturing and distribution also got shots in arms faster than usual.

And while two of the vaccines (Pfizer’s and Moderna’s) are a new type of vaccine, called mRNA, researchers have been studying the technology for decades across a range of diseases, including flu, Zika and rabies — even cancer. This type of vaccine delivers a set of instructions to the cells and teaches them to make a protein that then produces an immune response to the virus.

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine recently received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Moderna’s will likely get it soon. Johnson & Johnson — whose vaccine is a viral vector vaccine, meaning it uses a modified version of a different virus to deliver those immune-triggering directions — is expected to apply for federal approval soon. Both the Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines continue to be administered under the FDA’s emergency use authorization (EUA).

Myth #2: The vaccines will alter your DNA.

None of the vaccines interact with or alter a person’s genetic material, known as DNA, the CDC confirms. The vaccines help the cells build protection against a coronavirus infection, but the vaccine material never enters the nucleus of the cell where the DNA lives.

When it comes to the mRNA vaccines, after the cell is done using the instructions delivered, it breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA. And the genetic material delivered by the viral vector (used in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) does not integrate into a person’s DNA, the CDC says.

Myth #3: If you’ve had COVID-19 already, you don’t need to get vaccinated.

Even if you’ve had COVID-19, experts recommend getting vaccinated.

One reason: It’s unclear how long you are protected from the disease after a previous infection. Another: New research suggests that the COVID-19 vaccines offer better protection than natural immunity and can help prevent reinfections.

A study published Aug. 13 by the CDC found that unvaccinated individuals who already had COVID-19 were more than twice as likely as fully vaccinated people to get COVID-19 again. And research published this year in The Lancet suggests that older adults are more likely to be reinfected with COVID-19 than younger populations — a difference that can likely be explained by natural changes that weaken the immune system as you age, the authors note.

If you had COVID-19 and you were treated with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, the CDC recommends waiting 90 days before getting the vaccine.

Myth #4: Once you receive the coronavirus vaccine, you’re immune for life.

Health experts are still studying how long immunity lasts after vaccination, but additional shots that increase protection against COVID-19 may be needed over time — especially as new virus strains, like the dangerous delta variant, emerge and circulate. A third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is already being recommended for certain people with compromised immune systems.

While specifics are still unknown, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced plans for a booster rollout as early as this fall if recommended by the CDC’s independent advisory committee. If approved, more vulnerable populations such as older adults and health care workers will likely be first in line for the shots.

“We need to see much more data to see what the benefits of boosting [are] to the overarching general population who are lower risk” for severe COVID-19, Cameron Wolfe, M.D., infectious disease specialist and associate professor at the Duke University School of Medicine, said in a recent news briefing on the subject.

The need for boosters, however, does not mean that the vaccines are not working. So far, the data show that they have been highly protective at preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19.

Myth #5: You can ditch your mask after you get vaccinated.

People who have been fully vaccinated can resume many pre-pandemic activities, but going completely mask-free isn’t recommended. The CDC is still encouraging everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask in public indoor settings in order to curtail the spread of the virus.

The reason? New research shows that while fully vaccinated people are remarkably protected from serious illness if infected with the delta variant, it’s possible for them to spread the virus to others, including someone who is unvaccinated or immunocompromised. The guidelines are mostly for people in areas of high or substantial virus transmission. Currently, that’s 97 percent of U.S. counties, according to the CDC.

Myth #6: The vaccines use a live version of the coronavirus.

None of the authorized vaccines in the U.S. use the live virus that causes COVID-19, and they cannot give you the disease or cause you to test positive for a coronavirus infection. Instead, the vaccines use scientific techniques to train the human body to recognize and fight the coronavirus.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines deliver a set of instructions to your cells to encourage your body to produce antibodies. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine works differently. It uses a harmless adenovirus that can no longer replicate to send a genetic message to your cells.

While the coronavirus vaccines will not make you sick with COVID-19, they can cause side effects in some people. Commonly reported side effects include injection-site pain, fatigue, headache, chills, fever and muscle aches. Most of the reactions are temporary and resolve within a few days, according to the CDC.

Myth #7: You don’t need both doses of the two-dose vaccines.

Both the Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines require two doses that are given a few weeks apart. And experts stress that both shots are needed for optimal protection.

study published by the CDC in May found that a single dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines were about 80 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19; two doses were 94 percent effective.

Delta’s rise to dominance may make that second shot even more important. A U.K.-based study recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that one dose of the Pfizer vaccine or AstraZeneca vaccine (which is not currently authorized in the U.S.) is about 31 percent effective against symptomatic disease caused by delta. Two vaccine doses were about 88 percent effective.

The second Pfizer shot should be given 21 days after the first, the CDC recommends. Moderna’s doses should be administered 28 days apart. That said, the second dose of either may be given up to six weeks (42 days) from the first, if necessary.

Myth #8: The vaccines contain microchips or can cause you to be magnetic.

These two rumors have been circulating on social media, but neither one is true. “Vaccines are developed to fight against disease and are not administered to track your movement,” the CDC says. What’s more, the vaccines do not contain any metals or materials that can produce an electromagnetic field.

They are also free from manufactured products such as microelectronics, electrodes, carbon nanotubes or nanowire semiconductors, and from eggs, gelatin, latex and preservatives.

Find out more about the ingredients in the vaccines here.

Myth #9: The vaccines can cause fertility problems.

There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems in women or men, the CDC says. And in fact vaccination is recommended for people who are breastfeeding, pregnant or plan to get pregnant in the future.

The National Institutes of Health did recently award research grants to five institutions to explore potential links between COVID-19 vaccination and menstrual changes after some women reported experiencing irregular or missing periods after getting the shot.

A number of factors can lead to temporary changes in periods. Immune responses to the COVID-19 vaccine is one explanation. Others include pandemic-related stress, lifestyle changes related to the pandemic and infection with SARS-CoV-2, the NIH writes.

“These rigorous scientific studies will improve our understanding of the potential effects of COVID-19 vaccines on menstruation, giving people who menstruate more information about what to expect after vaccination and potentially reducing vaccine hesitancy,” Diana W. Bianchi, M.D., director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a statement.

Myth #10: You shouldn’t get the vaccine if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction.

If you have a history of allergic reactions to oral medications, food, pets, insect stings, latex or things in the environment like pollen or dust, you can safely get the COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC says. You can also get the vaccines if you have an egg allergy, because none of the authorized vaccines contain eggs or egg-related components.

The only group the agency says should definitely abstain are those who have had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to other vaccines or to injectable medications, the CDC recommends talking to your medical provider about whether to get the vaccine.

Only a small number of the people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine so far experienced the severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis has affected about two to five people per million vaccinated, the CDC says. Although anaphylaxis is life-threatening, it almost always occurs within 30 minutes of vaccination and can be quickly halted with a medicine such as epinephrine.

The agency recommends that people with a history of anaphylaxis stay on site for observation for 30 minutes after vaccination. Those with no history of anaphylaxis should stay for 15 minutes.

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

Imposter Scams

What You Should Know
•Government agencies will not call you out of the blue. So, that robocall from the Social Security Administration informing you that your Social Security number has been suspended due to criminal activity is a scam.•Most businesses also won’t contact you out of the blue about some alleged issue. So, the utility company calling to tell you they are about to cut off your power because you didn’t pay your bills is also a scam.
What You Should Do
•Let your answering machine or your voicemail do the work for you, and don’t trust your caller ID to be truthful (scammers can easily fake that information). Listen to messages with a wary ear, and make a considered decision about which calls you return.• Ask your service provider for your landline and your mobile phone what they can do to block calls that are “scam likely.”• To learn more about how to spot and avoid impostor scams, visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network Fraud Resource Center page on impostor scams.

5 Superfoods for Arthritis

Ease the ache and reduce inflammation by adding these standouts to your diet

If your hips, knees or hands have gotten stiffer and more painful in recent years, you might be among the more than 32 million Americans who suffer from osteoarthritis (OA). This degenerative joint condition, often described as the “wear and tear” form of arthritis, causes the cartilage that normally cushions joints to break down, allowing bone to rub against bone. The result: pain, redness, stiffness and inflammation.

This kind of arthritis is mainly treated by pain-relieving medications, but lifestyle changes can also help a lot. Exercise and weight loss tend to be top of the list. Regularly moving the impacted joint helps stretch and strengthen the muscles surrounding it, which can ease stiffness and promote mobility. If you’re overweight, shedding a few pounds will help take some strain off a weight-bearing joint (like your knee or hip), as well as reduce the amount of inflammatory proteins that are naturally produced by fat cells.

Dietary changes are, of course, the key to losing weight, but tweaking your eating habits can also help control arthritis symptoms. That’s because while osteoarthritis is primarily caused by overstressing one or more joints, “there’s also a component that has to do with the body’s response to injury, which is inflammation,” says Melissa Ann Prest, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She points to the Mediterranean and DASH diets, which limit added sugar, refined carbohydrates and saturated fat, as anti-inflammatory standouts.

Whether you follow a specific diet plan or not, regularly adding the following foods to your plate (while simultaneously cutting back on fried food and sweets) might help soothe your achy joints and perhaps even slow down the progression of arthritis.

Superfood No 1. Salmon

Oily fish like salmon are rich in inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, which may help curtail OA symptoms, says Toby Amidor, a registered dietician and author of The Family Immunity Cookbook (October 2021). Salmon contains both EPA and DHA, two types of omega-3s that are found in all the cells of the body, she explains.

Bonus: Eating fatty fish might help people with autoimmune forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, better manage their condition. The American Heart Association also recommends eating fish twice a week to protect your heart.

Not a fish fan? Chia seeds are the best plant-based source of omega-3s, and they’re also a good source of protein and fiber.

Superfood No. 2. Olive oil

Extra-virgin olive oil doesn’t have many omega-3s, but it does contain other unsaturated fats that similarly help quiet inflammation in the body, says Prest. This flavorful oil might even help slow the deterioration of cartilage in people with osteoarthritis, according to a research review published in Nutrients.

Perhaps most exciting for arthritis patients, however, is the fact that olive oil contains a compound called oleocanthal. Scientists have determined that oleocanthal has a mechanism of action that’s similar to the way NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen work to ease pain. While no one is suggesting that you can toss your pills if you indulge in spaghetti aglio e olio (spaghetti with garlic and oil) more often, swapping saturated fats like butter for olive oil should help decrease inflammation throughout your body and might make your osteoarthritis more tolerable. (Plus, it’s better for your heart.)

Superfood No. 3. Cherries

The ruby red hue is a hint that sweet cherries are packed with anthocyanins, potent antioxidants that are also found in blueberries and raspberries. Anthocyanins “may help minimize oxidation and oxidative stress that contribute to inflammation,” including in your joints, says Amidor.

Some research also suggests that cherry consumption might decrease levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory protein that’s associated with autoimmune forms of arthritis (like rheumatoid arthritis), as well as OA.

Superfood No. 4. Garlic

This pungent vegetable in the allium family is often touted for its ability to help ward off cancer, heart disease and the common cold. There’s also reason to believe that it might reduce the risk of osteoarthritis. In one study, published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, researchers determined that people who ate more alliums (including garlic, leeks, shallots and onions) were significantly less likely to develop hip OA.

The protective effect of garlic likely comes thanks to diallyl disulfide, a compound that appears to combat inflammatory cytokines (proteins) that would otherwise threaten to damage cartilage.

Superfood No. 5. Spinach and kale

These leafy greens are loaded with vitamin K, which research suggests is important for cartilage health, says Prest. That might explain why observational studies have found that older adults who don’t get enough K, which also plays a role in strengthening bones and helping blood to clot, are more apt to develop OA. Some scientists believe that vitamin K helps with arthritis by preventing the cartilage from calcifying (hardening).

While adding more spinach and kale to your diet will also give you a boost of folate, vitamin C, vitamin A and calcium, don’t rapidly up your intake if you take a blood-thinning drug like warfarin (Coumadin). The vitamin K in these greens can counteract the impact of your blood thinner, so be sure to check with your doctor before making any major dietary changes.

Reprinted from AARP

8 Warning Signs of a “Silent” Heart Attack

Despite its depiction in the movies, a heart attack doesn’t always produce pain or pressure so intense it causes a person to clutch their chest and collapse to the floor. Most people who have a heart attack experience a much less dramatic version. And some have no symptoms at all — or symptoms that are so subtle they’re mistaken for something else entirely.

These so-called silent heart attacks account for about 20 percent of all heart attacks, according to the American Heart Association. Some experts estimate that number is even higher — closer to 50 percent.

What is a silent heart attack?

A heart attack happens when the arteries that carry blood to the heart become blocked, thereby depriving the heart muscle of oxygen and nutrients. If a person having a heart attack feels pain or pressure, it’s because of this blockage, says Eduardo Marban, M.D., executive director of the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Symptoms of a silent heart attack

Few people actually exhibit no symptoms. But signs of a heart attack can be muted or confused with other conditions. Here’s what to look out for:

  1. Shortness of breath
  2. Weakness or fatigue
  3. A general feeling of unease or discomfort
  4. Sweating
  5. Nausea or vomiting
  6. Lightheadedness or dizziness
  7. Mild pain in the throat or chest
  8. Pain in the back or arms, like a sprained or pulled muscle

The same thing happens during a silent heart attack — blocked arteries make it so that oxygen-rich blood can’t reach the heart. The only difference is the problem goes unnoticed. “It’s not necessarily that there were no symptoms; it may just be that the patient didn’t recognize them as heart symptoms and wasn’t concerned,” Marban says.

For example, it’s not uncommon for silent heart attacks to be written off as indigestion, a sprained or strained muscle, fatigue, or “just feeling run-down,” Marban says.

People who later realize they’ve had a silent heart attack may also recall experiencing shortness of breath at the time, or a general state of discomfort that led to a night of lost sleep, says Robert Lager, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. Nausea, sweating, dizziness and an overall feeling of unease are also signs of a silent heart attack.

If you experience any of these symptoms, “don’t sit around and wonder” what could be wrong. “Time is muscle,” Lager says, referring to the damage that decreased blood flow can inflict on the heart. “The longer one waits to get evaluated, the more likely that there will be irreversible damage.”

That said, some people truly experience no symptoms — understated or otherwise — when they have a heart attack. Diabetics who have nerve issues that interfere with pain signals (called neuropathy), for example, are at higher risk for having a literal silent heart attack, Lager says. Women and older adults are also more likely to have an event without warning signs.

Is it a heart attack … or something else?

Silent heart attacks don’t just fool patients; they can be misdiagnosed in health care settings, too. Shortness of breath may be mistaken for a pulmonary problem, for instance. And pain in the shoulder or arm can be misdiagnosed as an orthopedic issue. “So there are lots of different forms of symptoms that are referred pain from the heart that can be very confusing and sometimes can be misleading,” Lager says.

One way to tell if the symptoms you’re experiencing are due to a heart attack or another condition is to know that the warning signs of heart trouble are “not positional,” Lager says. This means that the sprain-like pain in your neck and arm won’t get better if you stretch it or shake it out. And shortness of breath or sweating won’t subside if you take it easy and lie down.

“That’s a really good rule of thumb,” Lager says. “If you’re not sure if you’re having a symptom, see if you can manipulate it in some way. Can you press on the chest? Can you change your position? Can you stand up or sit down? Does it make a difference, positionally? Because the heart has no gyroscope; it doesn’t know where it is in space. And it doesn’t matter if you put the heart upside down or right side up, it’s going to give you the same signals if it’s in trouble.”

Another thing to keep in mind: Any symptom that results from the loss of oxygen to the heart will generally get worse if you increase demand on the heart. “So if someone has chest discomfort at rest and gets up and walks around, you’re increasing the heart’s demand for oxygen, so the symptoms usually will get worse if it’s a heart issue,” Lager says.

The risks factors for silent heart attacks are the same as those for a heart attack with symptoms. The most common include:

  • Age (for men, 45 and older; for women, 55 and older)
  • Diabetes
  • Excess weight
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Lack of exercise
  • Prior heart attack
  • Tobacco use
  • A family history of heart disease

The dangers of having a heart attack and not knowing

Many people who have had a silent heart attack find out about it after the fact — sometimes months or years later — usually during a routine electrocardiogram, or EKG. Symptoms that arise afterward can also bring patients in to see a health care provider. Lager says people who have suffered a silent heart attack may notice a faster heart rate or increased exercise intolerance, for example.

Usually when someone finds out they had a silent heart attack, the damage has already been done. But identifying a past heart attack can help you and your doctor mitigate risks for future cardiac events. After all, a silent heart attack can increase risk of heart failure by 35 percent, one study shows. It also increases the likelihood of sudden death, stroke and having another heart attack.

Dangerous heart arrhythmias are another concern your doctor may monitor for if you had an undetected heart attack in the past. These can develop when parts of the heart muscle are scarred from the loss of blood. And another worry: Because “our blood gets thicker under stress,” Lager says, blood clots are also more likely to crop up after you’ve had a heart attack.

“Once the diagnosis is made, either of a recognized heart attack or a silent heart attack, everything is put into a higher risk category in terms of the complications that can ensue,” Marban says. “So it’s not something that we should just consider a curiosity and do nothing about. … Detecting a heart attack and acknowledging it is the first step towards putting the patient back on the kind of effective therapy that we know is helpful.”

Don’t ignore out-of-the-blue issues

The take-home message, Lager says, is to pay attention to a change in patterns in your body.

“If you’re someone who occasionally has some chest discomfort that’s mild, transient and occurs in certain predictable patterns, then it’s not nearly the same as someone who has new symptoms never felt before,” he says.

And if you’re prone to indigestion and just ate a spicy meal, the burning feeling in your chest is likely heartburn. But if it comes on out of the blue and the symptoms get worse, especially as you walk around or exercise, “that’s a real warning sign that it’s not gastrointestinal,”

Cybercrooks pose as Amazon

Amazon, an online behemoth with $281 billion in sales in 2019, has long been an attractive target for fraudsters. The Seattle-based company, however, does not disclose the scope of the problem or whether fraud reports have increased since the pandemic-triggered boom in online buying.

AARP’s helpline reports a jump in complaints about frauds tied to online sales in April, May and June, compared with earlier in the year, Nofziger says. Here’s her advice:

  • Beware of phony websites and phone numbers for Amazon. The actual toll-free customer-service number is 888- 280-4331.
  • Don’t necessarily trust phone numbers that turn up during an internet search. For your credit card, use a customer-service number on the back of the card or on a statement.
  • Hang up on unsolicited phone calls. Do not click suspicious hyperlinks.
  • Don’t always believe what appears on caller ID, since calls can be spoofed. Never give a stranger remote access to your computer, since the person can “wreak havoc and steal your personal information,” Nofziger warns.

Masquerading as customer service

At Censys, an Ann Arbor, Michigan–based internet security firm, IT manager Mike Toole says con artists who pose as Amazon Prime customer support or Amazon security team members often use phishing emails or spoofed caller ID numbers.

REDACTED BY AARP

Fraudsters try to scare consumers into giving up personal information with fake security alerts, like this one purporting to be from Amazon, says Theresa Payton of Fortalice, a cybersecurity firm. Nefarious crooks may utilize “burner emails” for a short time, then abandon them, and even the savviest of digital shoppers have been victims of such fraud, she says.

Theresa Payton, CEO of Fortalice Solutions, a cybersecurity consultancy in Charlotte, North Carolina, suggests that consumers consider using one credit card for all online purchases, to be better able to spot potential fraud. Meantime, they should consider setting up alerts for all card transactions, she says.

Advice from the real Amazon

Amazon, for its part, advises consumers to watch for scams by looking for misspelled words in unsolicited emails, requests to update payment information and prompts to install software on their computer.

Amazon never sends unsolicited emails asking for sensitive information like your Social Security or tax-ID number or bank account number.

Use this link to file an online report to Amazon about spoofing and suspicious emails.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Watch Network

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