Health officials in Lambton County warn of COVID-19 vaccine scam targeting seniors

FILE - A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Health officials with Lambton Public Health are sounding the alarm after getting word this week of COVID-19 vaccine-related scams targeting the county’s elderly population.

The health unit opened its vaccine pre-registration to members of the public 90 and older on Thursday, whereby residents register and are contacted later by the health unit to book an appointment time at a vaccination clinic.

Not long after launching pre-registration, however, the health unit said it received several reports of suspicious phone calls targeting senior residents.

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In a few instances, residents thought they were contacting the health unit, but instead wound up talking to someone asking them to make a fee payment to book an appointment for the vaccine, says Donna Schmidtmeyer, supervisor of health promotion at Lambton Public Health, who notes there is no fee to book an appointment or to get the vaccine.

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“Somebody (else) had indicated that they had received a call from Lambton Public Health when they hadn’t initiated a pre-registration in the first place… And somebody else had shared that they had tried booking online and they ended up on a fraudulent website,” Schmidtmeyer said.

So because of these kinds of concerns, we thought it would be good to draw attention to the public that this situation could happen and for them to use extreme caution in making sure that they are talking to somebody at Lambton Public Health.”

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980 CFPL has reached out to Ontario Provincial Police and Sarnia police for comment about the incidents.

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Health officials say they’re concerned members of the public could be conned into handing over sensitive personal or financial information.

Schmidtmeyer said the incidents are discouraging, particularly for how quickly they appeared to start after pre-registration opened.

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“We put out the media release in the morning that they could start pre-registering, and then shortly after that they were starting to call and pre-register,” she said.

“Right away we had a few people indicating that they’d had these unfortunate situations that they had to deal with. It was really quite surprising.”

Read more: City of Hamilton warning residents of scam offering COVID-19 vaccines for money

Reports of similar vaccine scams have emerged elsewhere in Canada recently, prompting warnings from public officials, including several just this week.

On Monday, Peterborough Regional Health Centre reported being notified of fraudulent phone calls requesting financial information related to the vaccine.

Days later, Alberta Health Services said that they had heard of multiple episodes in which someone over 75 was offered a vaccine for a fee.

And on Thursday, officials in Hamilton issued an alert about phone calls targeting seniors selling vaccination appointments via credit card or other form of electronic payment.

Schmidtmeyer says if a member of the public receives a call that claims to be from Lambton Public Health, and they’re unsure of its authenticity, the health unit can be contacted directly at 519-383-8331.

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The health unit says nearly 100 per cent of the county’s 90+ population have enrolled, with more than 600 responses as of Friday. As many as 175 responses came from their essential caregivers.

Online pre-registration for those 90 and older has closed, but phone calls are still being accepted for a limited number of appointments via the number 519-383-8331, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Those 80 and older will be able to begin pre-registering for vaccines using the new online provincial system starting the week of March 15 according to the health unit. More information is expected next week.

More information about the vaccination campaign in Lambton County can be found on the health unit’s website.

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