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Florida bill would make vaccine scams a third-degree felony

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Meg Bourbonniere is a recently retired nurse who specialized in geriatric patients. It’s why she is very protective of older adults who are at risk for many types of abuse.

“Financial, emotional, physical, so people are always looking to take advantage of vulnerable people,” she said.

With so many desperate to get the COVID-19 vaccination, Meg wants to make sure no one falls for any scams.

That’s why she got suspicious when trying to register herself and reported what she thought was a bogus site to the Pinellas County Health Department.

“It looked like somebody was trying to get people to give money.”

Florida Speaker House Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, says there have been several reports of scammers targeting seniors, offering to schedule them for a vaccine but requiring personal information and a fee.

“There were fake sites that were requesting funds in order to get appointments that looked exactly like the real site,” said Sprowls.

Now, state lawmakers are fast-tracking a bill to make these kinds of scams a third-degree felony.

“We want to send a very clear message that if you do that, if you stand in the way of a vulnerable population and a vaccine that they want to get, we are coming for you. And when we do come for you, there will be handcuffs that will be involved,” said Sprowls.

State Rep. Ardian Zika, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has filed the legislation, House Bill 9.

State Attorney General Ashley Moody issued an alert last week warning people to look out for fraud on the Eventbrite ticketing site, which several counties are using for vaccine registration.

But Eventbrite says they haven’t found any evidence of fake registration events on the site.

And user error may have led to the confusion.

Meanwhile, Meg is still waiting for her appointment.

“Obviously, I didn’t get appointments on the first day of registration, but I did sign up through Alert Pinellas for when the next round is going to be offered. And I also signed up in Manatee County because I discovered I didn’t have to be a resident of any county. Just a resident of Florida.”

The health department will not ask for money or social security numbers to make the appointment, and the vaccines are free.

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