Hang up! HSE warns public to be aware of Covid vaccine scam

Calls for clarity on vaccine rollout so older people are not duped by fraudulent texts or calls

File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Older people must be given a clear timeline for when and where they will receive the Covid-19 vaccine so they are not misled by fraudulent text messages and calls requesting private information for fake vaccination appointments, the chief executive of the Alone charity has said.

Speaking following reports of a series of fraudulent text messages and calls in recent days, which purport to come from the Health Service Executive (HSE) and are on the subject of vaccines, Alone’s chief executive Seán Moynihan warned that older people were increasingly anxious about when they would receive the Covid-19 vaccine and worried about being pushed back in the queue.

This uncertainty in relation to the vaccine rollout, and in relation to when people aged 80 and older will receive their vaccine, leads to vulnerable people accepting these calls and handing over personal information, Mr Moynihan told The Irish Times.

“We’ve had a good few reports of these scams and it points to the information gap around the vaccine. Older people aren’t clear who is going to call them and when. That leaves a gap that scammers can fill,” he said.

Warning

Gardaí, the HSE and the Department of Health published a warning on Monday that fraudulent text messages were doing the rounds requesting that people confirm private and sensitive information, including their PPS number, date of birth and address, for vaccine appointments.

Some members of the public have also received phone calls requesting that they make an appointment for the Covid-19 vaccine at a “random hospital”.

In most cases, the person receiving the call will say they are not in a position to travel to hospital, the statement from An Garda Síochána said.

The caller may then ask if the individual lives alone and ask for their home address before offering to come to the person’s home to administer the vaccine.

The HSE clarified that it would never text or call individuals requesting personal information, and that it would never ask for payment for a Covid-19 test or Covid-19 vaccination.

It confirmed that the person’s GP would be the first point of contact about the vaccination or testing.

“The Covid-19 vaccine is free and it is not available privately,” said the statement on Monday, which called on members of the public to make any vulnerable friends or family aware of the fraudulent calls and texts.

However, Mr Moynihan says information in relation to the vaccine rollout is still not clear to older members of Irish society, noting that Alone had received numerous calls in recent weeks from people worried about when, and even if, they would get the Covid-19 vaccine.

“It hasn’t been clarified to people that it will be the GP or primary healthcare provider who will call to confirm the vaccine. If people knew [this] it would reduce their anxiety that they might be missed on the list, that they might miss the call or the feeling that this is all moving online and I’m not really online.”

Fears of being overtaken

Calls from certain groups via the media that they should be pushed up the list for the vaccine are also worrying older people, said Mr Moynihan.

“They’re worried they will be overtaken. Many of those who are over 80 don’t have a voice in all this. They might be struggling with other health issues and frailty since last March, but they don’t have the contacts to advocate for receiving the vaccine.”

Celine Clarke from Age Action agreed that this “information gap” regarding how and when the vaccine will become accessible to older people was leaving them open to exploitation. “People have been told ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’, so there’s an expectation that a phone call will happen,” said Ms Clarke. “That’s created a route for people who have fraudulent activities on their mind and has created a kind of perfect storm for the people waiting for that call.”

Stronger efforts are needed to inform older people in response to the Covid-19 misinformation which has become rife during the pandemic, said Ms Clarke, adding that family members should ensure older relatives have access to reliable sources for information on the vaccine.

In the statement released on Monday, the HSE, gardaí and the Department of Health reminded members of the public to never give out their PPS number or disclose that they live alone to any person who makes unsolicited contact by phone or email. Individuals should not give personal data via these calls, emails and texts and should just hang up or ignore them.

Gardaí urged any person who may have mistakenly provided personal information in response to this scam to contact their local Garda station.