Vaccine scammers target kupuna

The COVID-19 vaccine has sparked a new scam aimed at kupuna, attempting to steal personal information such as Medicare numbers.

South Kona resident Ken Love received a phone call from someone claiming to be from the Department of Health after he received his first vaccination. The caller said his second vaccination date was changed and that they needed his Medicare number.

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“It didn’t feel right so I said I felt uncomfortable giving it to him and we are told not to give out info over the phone,” said Love. “He tried to explain to me why I should give it to him and that they have in their records.”

The caller went on to tell Love that if he gave them the number, they would verify it.

“He said if you don’t give it to me you won’t get your second shot. I said that’s not true then he said ‘you will die, you son of a (expletive),” recalled Love.

Love said the call was very realistic at first and he nearly fell for it, and wanted to warn others of the scam.

Norma Kop, director of the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) Hawaii, said calls to her office have substantially risen since the vaccines began rolling out.

“It’s distressful because all they (kupuna) want is to be good,” said Kop. “We had a person who said they just set up their vaccination appointment online when they got a call. It looked like a legitimate call asking for her to confirm their Medicare number. The person calling knew their first name. The Department of Health would never do that.”

Kop stressed Social Security, IRS, Veterans Affairs, Medicare and other government agencies will never call or email asking for personal information.

“They use snail mail,” she said referring to the postal service.

Kopp said families and caregivers of kupuna need to be vigilant.

“Extra eyes and extra ears,” she said. “It takes a whole entire state to protect our kupuna.”

She warned that anytime someone asks for personal information, either by phone or email, it should raise a big red flag.

“Also be wary of anything that says free,” she warned.

Another alarming trend she has been seeing is people posting their vaccination card on social media, displaying their medical identifier. That can also be used for nefarious purposes.

“The older we get, cognitively we need to trust people more,” she explained. “In that trust process, we could be letting go of family legacy and that needs to be protected.”

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Kop encourages anyone who suspects they have been targeted or unsure if the circumstances require further investigation to call (SMP) Hawaii toll free at (800) 296-9422.

A wealth of information is also available online at www.smphawaii.org.

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