Duane Dunston: The pandemic has brought out the scammers. Be careful.

This commentary is by Duane Dunston, a cybersecurity expert and a professor at Champlain College.

The pandemic has brought with it a significant number of scams, as you may expect. The Department of Justice website lists fraud cases almost every day in March 2021 related to the pandemic. 

As of March 26, 2021, over 474 people had been charged with fraud related to the relief efforts and scams involved with the pandemic. While many of those cases involve people committing fraud via reporting false payroll expenses and creating fake companies, there are cases where people are stealing the identities of individuals to obtain loans or receive funds intended for others. Even those who are incarcerated were targeted for identity theft.

Other scams to look out for are related to vaccinations and also contact tracers. 

Vaccination registration

Please do not give out, in vaccination calls, email or text:

  • Your medical history
  • Social Security number
  • Address
  • Financial information
  • Who lives with you or if you live alone

If in doubt about a phone call, record the number, hang up and call your state’s health department to verify the contact tracer. Regardless, do not give out any personal information about yourself or others or if someone does or doesn’t live with you. Do not respond to email messages asking for that information or fill out any web forms. The only time a web form should be filled out is if you directly visit your state’s health department to register for a vaccine. Do not respond to unsolicited phone calls to register you because you’d be giving your private information to someone you don’t know.

Contact tracer

With contact tracer phone calls, emails, or text messages, do not send any information. It is best to take time to become familiar with your state’s contact tracing protocol. Here in Vermont, you may receive a text message or a phone call. With a text message in Vermont, you’ll see the number #86361, which they explain on their website: “If you receive a text message from 86361, this is a notification from the Health Department that you are a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Soon you will receive a call from a Health Department Contact Tracer.”

They will not ask for financial information, social security number, and other personal information. The contact tracer may inquire if you need assistance but will explain the process for it.

Registration online for vaccinations should only be at for Vermonters. The CDC has a link to all state health departments. Start there, at a minimum.

Listen to a sample contact call here.

In summary:

  • Do not give any personal information such as Social Security number, address, who you live with or if you live alone, or financial information via email messages, phone calls, or web forms asking for the information.
  • If you know someone without internet access, print out or share with them the test-message number to expect for Vermont or your state. Provide them the state’s health department phone number to register for their vaccination.
  • Be aware that scammers will play on your emotions and will try to talk to you about the weather, the effects of the pandemic, etc. As you are talking with them, you may inadvertently share the information they are expecting.
  • Be vigilant and share with those who don’t have access to the internet to know about these scams.
  • The elderly, those who may not speak the native language well, or life situations (poverty, incarceration, mental illness, etc.) are particularly vulnerable.
  • Social support organizations, community centers, religious organizations, news outlets, radio stations, pharmacies, and medical organizations should provide a phone number to their state’s health department for vaccination registration. News and radio outlets can reach many people and may want to share the information frequently and display it prominently with TV and print news.

Stay alert online and on the phone.


About Commentaries publishes 12 to 18 commentaries a week from a broad range of community sources. All commentaries must include the author’s first and last name, town of residence and a brief biography, including affiliations with political parties, lobbying or special interest groups. Authors are limited to one commentary published per month from February through May; the rest of the year, the limit is two per month, space permitting. The minimum length is 400 words, and the maximum is 850 words. We require commenters to cite sources for quotations and on a case-by-case basis we ask writers to back up assertions. We do not have the resources to fact check commentaries and reserve the right to reject opinions for matters of taste and inaccuracy. We do not publish commentaries that are endorsements of political candidates. Commentaries are voices from the community and do not represent VTDigger in any way. Please send your commentary to Tom Kearney, [email protected]

Email: [email protected]

Send us your thoughts

VTDigger is now accepting letters to the editor. For information about our guidelines, and access to the letter form, please click here.


Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Duane Dunston: The pandemic has brought out the scammers. Be careful."