Scam or shot? Vaccine appointment calls may be marked as spam


HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Some Virginia residents are raising concerns about COVID-19 vaccination scheduling. They told 8News, they’re worried that there could be a potential to miss an opportunity for an appointment, as the Department of Health is reaching out through unknown numbers.

Thousands of people are waiting for a response, after filling out an interest form and pre-registering for a COVID-19 shot. Like many Virginia residents, Henrico County resident Dave Garlock and his wife were waiting to get the COVID-19 vaccine. They noticed they had silenced unknown and junk callers in their iPhone settings and turned them off.

Yesterday, Garlock received a phone call.

“It was a 501 number which is generally a Henrico Government Center number,” said Garlock.

According to Garlock, the number was labeled as ‘potential spam’ and it turned out to be a volunteer to set up an appointment.

“A lot of folks are at risk. They’re elderly. They’re not understanding that there’s a potential that they could be getting that shot now and they’re missing their opportunity,” said Garlock.

He then sent a letter to the Virginia Department of Health.

“I just got a call from the (COVID-19) vaccination scheduler that shown up on my phone as spam. I had turned off my SPAM filter a few weeks ago so that these types of calls are not blocked. I got my appointment but want to make you aware that your attempts to contact many seniors may be going unanswered due to SPAM filters or customers not answering calls from numbers they do not know. As you may be aware, the robot-dialers are good at spoofing local numbers and this is a problem. Can you work with Verizon, A&T, T Mobile and others to have the phone number show that the call is coming in from (VDH). It may just improve your response rate and save some lives.

Dave Garlock

According to the Virginia Department of Health, 20% of the vaccine appointment slots are allocated for the phone bank. Two groups of people are making the phone calls. Calls will come from different phone numbers. While some are Virginia area codes, others are out of state area codes. Numbers may show up as ‘Henrico County’ on caller ID’s and others are flagged by telephone providers as spam.

“No one’s ever dropped because they didn’t answer the phone, so we do make two phone calls. We do not leave a voicemail so that we’re able to continue to call the next person,” said Amy Popovich, who is the Nurse Manager at the Richmond City Health District.

Popovich told 8News, there is about a 50% answer rate.

For those nervous about answering unknown numbers, the FBI has released guidance on what to do if the call really is spam or a fraud scheme relating to COVID-19.

According to the FBI, residents may receive unsolicited emails, telephone calls, or personal contact from someone claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company, or COVID-19 vaccine center requesting medical and/or personal information.

“Hang up the phone or delete the email if anyone asks for any form of payment, social security, or insurance ID numbers. Those are things we will not ask for,” said Popovich.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, calling through a variety of numbers is the best way to reach people that do not have email or did not include an email address in their interest form that was filled out on line. Residents who pre-registered should receive a weekly email that tells you that you’re in the system. Emails will be sent from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS)

Residents can call the call center if they are unsure about an email or a call at (804)-205-3501.

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