‘Criminals’ impersonating state agents to scam people during vaccine rollout, Texas DSHS warns


PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — Robert Amparan and his wife have been getting their groceries delivered and limiting trips out of their house for months. So, when the phone rang, and a man offered to administer a COVID-19 vaccine to them at their Pflugerville home, they were intrigued.

“We are in that age bracket where we are in danger,” he said.

The person called from a West Texas area code, claiming to work with the Texas Department of State Health Services. Amparan told KXAN he and his wife sensed a few red flags: how would this driver keep the shots at the required temperature? Why hadn’t they heard about this initiative yet?

“I have no idea what their intentions are,” he said. “I mean, is that just to get your address to know where you live? Are they actually going to come by, and if they are actually giving you a shot — what are they giving you? Something to knock you out, and then they rob you blind?”

Amparan said the man asked if he was receiving Medicare payments, then told him they would call him back to schedule an appointment.

When Amparan decided to follow up instead, the number had been disconnected. He decided to call Medicare to report the incident and even considered contacting police.

On Tuesday, DSHS sent out a warning that read, “Criminals are impersonating Texas government agencies to scam people during the #COVID19 pandemic. DSHS or contact tracers will never ask for your social security, credit card, or other financial information.

Chris Van Deusen, a spokesperson for the agency, said they are working to expand vaccine access across the state through clinics and “hubs,” but their agents are not making house calls.

“It’s not a sort of door-to-door effort, so that’s something that would put me on guard if I got a call like that,” Van Deusen said.

He explained Texans might get a call from state agents doing “contact tracing,” especially if they test positive for COVID-19.

“People you’ve been around, your health and how you are feeling — following up on that sort of thing. Are there places you’ve been if you might have been infectious? So, those are the kind of questions you can expect to be asked. It’s never going to be anything financial, certainly gathering bank account details, credit card numbers, asking you for any kind of payment,” he said.

Heather Massey with the Better Business Bureau said they starting seeing potential scams reported before the vaccine was even available, offering to help people get to the front “of the line.” Now, they are seeing reports of people advertising “discounts” to people or offering to come distribute the vaccine at someone’s home or workplace.

“They’ve targeted businesses owners. They’ve targeted consumers. Unfortunately, this is what they do for a living. It’s their job, so just be cautious,” Massey said.

She urged people to slow down and do their research before they make any decisions — and especially before they give out any information.

“You do want to take a pause, and you do want to check with your healthcare provider first,” she said.

They also encourage people to report suspicious activity to their Scam Tracker map, where they log reports of possible illegal schemes or fraud.

Van Deusen said DSHS doesn’t keep data on fraud reports to the agency, but recommends people file a consumer complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s office.

“They may hit you with something you haven’t experienced before, and you may be like, “Well wait a minute, that sounds good,” Amparan said of his experience. “Just be careful, folks. You know, they’re out there. They are out there, and unfortunately, they target the seniors.” 

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