By KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — It’s easy to see on social media who among your friends and followers has received a COVID-19 vaccine, with people posting photos to celebrate the seeming light at the end of the yearlong coronavirus pandemic.
People who post photos of their COVID-19 vaccination cards though, are putting themselves at risk of falling victim to scams, according to a new warning from the Better Business Bureau.
“When you release a photo of that card, it has your personal, identifiable information,” Sandra Guile, director of communications for the International Association of Better Business Bureaus, Inc., told “Good Morning America.” “It’s got your date of birth and your first and last name.”
“With that information, there are some unsavory individuals out there that are going to take that and they’re going to try to open up credit cards, buy cell phones, go shopping online,” she said.
In addition to concerns about sharing private information online, photos of the vaccination cards on social media also give scammers more opportunities to create fake vaccination cards, according to the BBB, which notes an instance of scammers allegedly selling fake vaccination cards has already happened in the United Kingdom, which started the vaccination process ahead of the United States.
The warning from the bureau, a nonprofit organization that works to protect consumers, comes as health care providers and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have pushed for people who have received a vaccine to publicize it to help encourage others.
Public health experts have raised concerns around how to address the number of Americans who could have concerns about taking the vaccine, especially because the vast majority of people will need to be vaccinated before it will have a meaningful impact on reducing the spread of the virus.
The CDC released its own design last year for bright orange and white stickers or buttons that say “I got my COVID-19 vaccine!”
Photos of those stickers or a simple thumbs up photo after receiving a vaccine shot are what people should share online instead of their official vaccination cards, according to Guile.
“We’ve all been isolated for the last year-plus and told to stay home. We’re eager and itching to get back to normal life, and that’s all well and good and this is the first step towards that, but the facts still remain that you need to protect your personal information,” she said. “The best thing for people to do right now is to treat their personal information like cash, protect it.”
Guile said BBB has also received reports through their Scam Tracker tool of people getting fraudulent text, phone and social media messages from people asking for their personal information or money in order to help them get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Sadly this is the type of situation that scammers look for,” she said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, there’s a lot of information going out right now from a lot of different sources, people are kind of wary on where they find the correct information and how they get the vaccine.”
People should be aware that anyone reaching out to them unprompted for their personal information or money are likely scammers and should be ignored and reported, according to Guille.
“If someone were to approach you, and you haven’t reached out to them in the first place, they’re phishing for information that they should not get from you,” she said. “If you see a phone number pop up on your cell phone or landline that is not familiar, don’t answer it. Let it go to your voicemail.”
“If you see a text message claiming that you can go to a certain site or get your vaccine ahead of everybody else and it’s from a person you’ve never heard of before or a number you don’t recognize, just ignore it and delete it,” Guille added. “And if you get a message through Facebook Messenger and it looks like it’s coming from a friend of yours, it’s likely coming from someone else who has probably hacked into the friend’s account.”
Just like many children have helped their parents and grandparents secure vaccine appointments, family members should make sure their loved ones are also aware of potential vaccine scams out there, recommended Guille.
And for any questions about the COVID-19 vaccination process, people should turn to their health care providers and trusted sources of information like the CDC, according to Guille.
Here are three tips from BBB for safely sharing on social media:
1. Share your vaccine sticker or use a profile frame instead.
“If you want to post about your vaccine, there are safer ways to do it. You can share a photo of your vaccine sticker or set a frame around your profile picture,” the BBB advises.
2. Review your security settings.
“Check your security settings on all social media platforms to see what you are sharing and with whom. If you only want friends and family to see your posts, be sure that’s how your privacy settings are configured.”
3. Be wary of answering popular social media prompts.
“Sharing your vaccine photo is just the latest social trend. Think twice before participating in other viral personal posts, such as listing all the cars you’ve owned (including makes/model years), favorite songs, and top 10 TV shows. Some of these “favorite things” are commonly used passwords or security questions.”
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