Agencies warn of COVID-19 vaccine scams

The state Department of Health — in collaboration with the Office of the Attorney General, Executive Office on Aging’s Senior Medicare Patrol Hawaii and the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs — is warning Hawaii residents about new COVID-19 vaccination scams.

Scammers usually send phone and text messages demanding individuals to call back to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in exchange for money.

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Callers falsely claim the vaccine will be available only for three months for $1,000, a limited time to create a false sense of urgency, as in a recent case involving a call from Jamaica to a Hawaii resident.

“All COVID-19 vaccinations are free. At no time should anyone pay for the vaccine,” said state Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char. “Everyone, including kupuna, will eventually have an opportunity to receive their vaccine.”

Residents are urged to remain vigilant, said Norma Kop, director of SMP Hawaii, which assists beneficiaries, their families and care-givers to prevent, detect and report health care fraud, errors and abuse.

“We encourage residents to refrain from responding to communication from an unknown number, email or unfamiliar location to protect themselves from bogus COVID-19 vaccine offers, especially those asking to verify one’s personal information, such as Medicare or Medicaid numbers, to receive health care benefits,” Kop said.

SMP Hawaii offers these tips:

• No one can pay to “jump ahead of the line” and receive earlier access to a vaccination;

• No one who calls from the DOH or its trusted partners concerning the COVID-19 vaccination will ask for a Social Security, bank account, credit card number or related personal information;

• Legitimate authorities do not ask for payment in exchange for the vaccine — just hang up;

• Residents should always safeguard their personal information, health care-related numbers, financial information and related identifiers.

To voice a concern or to file a complaint, contact SMP Hawaii at info@smphawaii.org or (808) 586-7281.

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Neighbor island residents may call toll free at (800) 296-9422.

To learn more about ways to prevent, detect and report health care fraud, errors and abuse, or to volunteer, visit smphawaii.org.

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