RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Some health officials in North Carolina are scrambling to let people know that phone calls to them flagged as spam as actually legitimate calls to set up appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations.
This comes under the heading known as “the law unintended consequences,” where something designed to help causes unexpected problems elsewhere.
Robocalls are the biggest frustration that comes with modern phone systems. After years of promising to do something about it, providers began installing systems to identify spam calls. Now, during the pandemic, that has come back to bite some people.
The problem first surfaced in Florida. People started getting a spam message on their caller ID from phone calls originating from their county health departments. It was a situation that health department officials were unaware of, according to one woman who received a spam-labeled call that was really a legitimate vaccine appointment.
“It came up as a ‘spam risk,’ and she says, ‘Oh, that might be why no one is picking up.'”
Lenoir County discovered its calls to alert people about their upcoming vaccine appointments are being labeled as spam calls. The county put out a notice warning people that its phonebank calls may have a “spam” designation on caller ID.
The county advised people to either answer the calls or to add the Lenoir County Heath phone number to their contacts. That way the call won’t come up as spam.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has led efforts to get phone carriers to block robocalls.
“I know carriers are aware of the issue and are trying to modulate their technology,” Stein said. “The problem is, we want them to screen out the bad robocalls but not the good ones.”
If you do take a call that says it is potential spam and it turns out to be your vaccine appointment notification, you’re fine. However, if the person on the other end starts asking for personal information or demands cash for the vaccine, that’s a real scam and you should hang up.
“If they’re asking for money or personal information, they’re criminals trying to steal from you,” Stein said.
The COVID-19 vaccine is free in North Carolina — even for those without insurance.