Police departments in southern Maine are receiving multiple reports from residents regarding COVID 19 vaccine scams.
According to the Portland Press Herald, several residents, most of whom are seniors, received calls requesting to schedule vaccination appointments or offering “COVID cards” (fake government cards for coronavirus benefits) to those on Medicare in exchange for valuable personal information.
Kennebunk Police Officer Candance Simeoni, who investigates crimes against the elderly, told the Herald, “Our older [residents] are not only vulnerable, but they’re isolated and lonely. Their hope is to get the vaccination and get back into the community. [Scammers] prey on the false hope they’ll be getting a vaccination sooner.”
According to a fraud alert issued on the Department of Health and Services’ Office of Inspector General (HHS) website, scammers utilize telemarketing calls, texting, and social media platforms to engage in their fraudulent activity. Often, the scammers will offer COVID tests, benefit cards, or vaccine scheduling services in exchange for personal information, including Medicare information, which they will then use to bill federal health programs, thus committing medical identity theft.
The HHS advises individuals to keep an eye out for scams when you are:
- Asked to pay out of pocket to receive the vaccine
- To pay to get your name on a list for a vaccine appointment, or to get early access.
- To respond immediately for a vaccine through advertisements on social media, emails, telephone calls, or on-line access.
- Called by someone saying they are from the “government” or someone from your “health plan” will be calling you about getting you on a vaccine list.
- Offered to buy a vaccine, and have it shipped to you directly
In one incident on January 21, Maine police received a report from a man saying he had given his Medicare patient number to a suspected scammer in exchange for a “card” that would speed up the vaccination process – a common, recent fraud scheme.
Lawyer Halsey Frank, a top federal prosecutor in Maine confirmed the HHS warnings, adding that scammers are also using tactics such as false advertising to lure in the elderly, offering early access to vaccines for a fee.
Frank said in a statement, “These scammers are ruthless and relentless, and everyone needs to have their guard up…People here in Maine, particularly the elderly, are desperate to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, and the con artists are exploiting that desperation to get access to their money and personal information.”
Dr. Nirav Shah of the Maine CDC urged residents to “exercise extreme caution,” and to ignore and hang up on callers asking for personal information for contact tracing purposes. Usually, scammers will ask for personal details, including a Social Security number, which is not part of the contact tracing process.
Officer Simeoni confirmed from MainHealth, the healthcare organization managing the vaccine rollout in the state, that when scheduling a vaccine appointment, you will not be asked for your Social Security number, banking, or credit card information – only your birth date and address. Simeoni also warned that scammers can call with a disguised or false number, so it is not advised to trust a number that may belong to a reputable organization solely based on the number.
Maine Police Chief Paul Fenton advised that people should be wary of callers who won’t let them hang up or don’t want them to call back. He added, “If it’s too good to be true, it usually isn’t true.”