Always look a gift horse in the mouth

Coming hot on the heels of positive news on a vaccine for COVID-19 it seems that there are still plenty of fraudsters out there who are trying to exploit the pandemic situation, none more so than by promoting access to paid trials that do not exist. Whilst the trials being administered by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have hit the headlines in the last few days with regard to their success rates in clinical trials, there are still thousands of other trials taking place across the world for both vaccines and effective treatments for the virus.

The US Better Business Bureau has published a number of warnings about unsolicited text and WhatsApp messages being sent to people promoting the opportunity to participate in clinical trials for a new COVID-19 vaccine. Coming at a time when there are numerous legitimate trials reporting success, the scammers are playing on the feelgood factor of wider participation will lead to a faster vaccine being available for all.

To further entice people to take part, many of the scams offer a reward or inducement to take part, with amounts of up to $1,000 reported. Many of the scams seen so far by the BBB include links to websites which look to harvest personal (especially medical) and financial details, such as bank account information to send “payments” to or will download maleficent payloads onto your computer such as malware, spyware or ransomware.

The pharmaceutical companies who are administering the clinical trials never ask for any payment or financial detail to take part. Whilst they will need certain personal information from you, they do not need any financial information or social security numbers and any that do should be avoided. In addition, there are a number of measures you can take to ensure that the company, or individual, you have been approached by (or vice-versa) is genuine, including:

  • If you are sent a link to a website, look at when the domain name was registered. Many scams are based on very recently registered domain names, hoping to cause as much damage as possible before the domain names are suspended.
  • In most countries there are centralised lists of trials being run – for instance ClinicalTrials.gov has details of trials being run not only in the US but globally. In the UK the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has to give approval for all drug trials and they will also be able to confirm the legitimacy of a company and their authority to run a trial. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also have a searchable database.
  • Carry out a web search on the company that is running the trial – look for any reviews and be suspicious if they are all very positive and very recently added.

The legitimate drug companies are working around the clock to find a vaccine and effective treatments for the virus. Whilst there is a growing, urgent demand for progress, do not let that cloud your judgement if you are offered cash to take part. If it looks too good to be true, even in these desperate times, it most probably is.

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