FinCEN Issues Warning About COVID-19 Vaccine Scams, Cyberattacks

fake vaccines

As the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine continues to roll out to medical workers and high-risk populations, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is asking financial institutions to be extra vigilant when it comes to cybersecurity. 

“Already, fraudsters have offered, for a fee, to provide potential victims with the vaccine sooner than permitted under the applicable vaccine distribution plan,” FinCEN said in a statement on Monday (Dec. 28).

“In addition, cybercriminals, including ransomware operators, will continue to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic alongside legitimate efforts to develop, distribute, and administer vaccines,” according to the agency.

There have already been ransomware attacks aimed at medical research facilities working on vaccinations. FinCEN said similar attacks could be launched to disrupt the vaccine supply chain and delivery operations.

Further, FinCEN said phishing schemes could surface targeting people with fraudulent vaccine information, the sale of unapproved and illegally marketed vaccines and the sale of counterfeit versions of approved vaccines.

So far, two vaccinations have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use.

FinCEN also emphasized the importance of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) as being critical to identifying and stopping cybercrime in “conjunction with effective implementation of Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) compliance requirements.”

Financial institutions reporting suspected fraud should offer information about how the scammers reached out to the victim, “and any other available details including data related to the financial transactions or method of contact,” the agency said.

More than 200,000 Americans were scammed out of $145 million relating to the pandemic since the beginning of 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said. 

PYMNTS’ September Preventing Financial Crimes Playbook, done in collaboration with NICE Actimize, indicated that the FTC discovered over 184,000 instances of pandemic-related fraud totaling over $124 million.

In the October B2B Business Digest, PYMNTS discovered that although there has been an increase in the number of businesses are falling victim to payments fraud, there have also been great strides made by tech firms to mitigate the risks.