JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – I know, we warn you all the time not to answer calls from an unfamiliar number or to respond to text messages you are not expecting, but that suspicion may have you missing an important call.
The Better Business Bureau and the Duval County Health Department say they have received call after call from residents asking if the calls they are receiving offering to help them book a vaccine appointment at the Regency Mall site are a scam.
“I thought it was a spoof myself and I said I don’t qualify and I hung up,” explained Lisa Hartman, who received a call and a text message offering to book her an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the Regency Mall site.
“Every time they’ve called me, it’s said ‘SPAM CALL,’” on the cellphone Hartman explained. She is very familiar with scam calls. She investigates them for the Northeast Florida Better Business Bureau.
When she started receiving calls from other Duval County residents asking about the same kind of calls, she started digging deeper.
The calls contained all the red flags she had seen before, pointing to a scam. The person on the other end of the call had an accent, suggesting the call was coming from outside the United States, the SPAM ALERT notice popped up on caller ID when the calls were placed, the person sounded like they were calling from home and not from a call center. But, as she discovered.
“These are legitimate calls,” Hartman said.
She called the health department, the Regency vaccine site and the State Department of Health and found out that the state does have schedulers who are calling people who register through the state’s vaccine scheduling line.
“When they register, they do not talk to a live person,” explained Dr. Pauline Rolle, medical director of the Duval County Health Department. She said a person who registers through the state’s phone number or website will receive a call back from a scheduler who will ask them a series of health questions and then book their appointment at the Regency vaccine site.
Rolle said at first the schedulers would not leave a message, but now they do. They each have a list of people to call.
“If they have a list of 1,000 people they need to schedule, they go through the list and then start all over again, which is why you may receive multiple calls a day from the same number,” she said.
But she urged people to please answer so they do not miss their chance to book a vaccine appointment.
The state is using a company called Sharecare, which employs schedulers to make appointments. Many of the schedulers are working remotely, so they are using their personal cellphones to call people to make their appointment.
“They use the *69 feature before making the call so the person they are calling does not see their personal cellphone number. This often pops up as a spam risk or spam alert on your cellphone,” explained Hartman.
Rolle said not all of the schedulers may speak English as their first language either, further fueling concerns that the calls may be coming from another country.
She wants everyone to understand that a legitimate health department scheduler will not ask for any financial or personal information.
“The key thing to keep in mind is the Department of Health is not going to ask you for your Social Security number. We’re not going to ask you for payment. The vaccines are free. So if someone asks you for that, you should be concerned and you should hang up the phone,” Rolle explained.
Here are the types of questions legitimate schedulers will ask you:
- Date of birth
- Health information, like allergies, pre-exisiting medical conditions
- Mother’s maiden name
- Day and time to book an appointment
Hartman received one of these legitimate calls, even though she does not meet the age requirement to receive a vaccine. She did not realize her cardiologist had registered her name with the state for a vaccine until she received the appointment call and she contacted her doctor to confirm.
“You may receive a call even if you did not register for a vaccine,” she explained.
While she said there are several numbers from which schedulers are calling to book appointments, the most common numbers are:
Hartman said if you are still worried about any call you might receive promising to book you a COVID-19 vaccine, you can contact her at the BBB and she will help you. Her number is: 904-721-2288, extension: 304.
Currently, there are a number of COVID-19 scams circulating in and around our area. Remember, if a caller asks you for money or personal information like your Social Security number, it is very likely a scam, so HANG UP.