House gives initial approval to bill targeting pandemic scams

hooded hacker covid19 coronavirus phishing attack scam
Officials at all levels of government have been warning people about scams.

The House gave its initial sign-off Thursday to its first bill for the 2021 Session, legislation creating penalties for scams related to vaccines and personal protective equipment.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls has made addressing problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic a legislative priority. The scammer crackdown bill (HB 9), carried by Land O’ Lakes Republican Rep. Ardian Zika, is the first bill the full House considered in the nascent Session.

Zika’s proposal establishes criminal penalties and authorizes civil remedies from fraud as consumers seek vaccines or to send personal protective equipment during a pandemic.

Officials at all levels of government have been warning people about scams promising vaccines or PPE in exchange for money, Zika said.

Shortly after officials first identified the COVID-19 virus in Florida, nearly a year ago, Attorney General Ashley Moody began warning of coronavirus scams in the Sunshine State. Scammers try to exploit people’s fears about the pandemic to rip them off.

“They often use authentic-looking but fake websites to lure unsuspecting consumers into paying for vaccines or appointments that never materialize,” Zika said.

The bill would stiffen penalties against fake websites and fraudulent COVID-19 ploys. In many instances, swindlers offer vaccine access in exchange for money. It also would prohibit the dissemination of false or misleading vaccine or PPE information with intent to defraud.

Federal, state and local officials have warned Florida consumers to be wary of offers advertising special access to the COVID-19 vaccine or personal protective equipment in exchange for money or other valid valuable consideration, Zika said.

The measure would also allow victims to pursue civil remedies against fraudsters.

“This bill sends a loud and clear message that the Florida House of Representatives will protect consumers against fraud during a pandemic.

The second bill the House is discussing Thursday is also related to COVID-19. That measure (HB 7) would extend extend liability protections for cases relating to the virus. Unlike Zika’s bill, the liability bill is garnering significant pushback from Democrats.

Zika’s bill now awaits final passage in the House.

A similar bill filed by Sen. Aaron Bean (SB 1608) would also provide protections against fraud related to COVID-19. That bill has not been scheduled for a hearing yet.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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