NSW Police are investigating a “selfish and sickening fraud” after money was apparently exchanged for COVID-19 vaccination appointments at a major hospital in Sydney.
AAP understands people on the Chinese language social media app WeChat were asked to pay $300 to secure a quick turnaround booking for Pfizer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney’s inner-west.
Police Minister David Elliott described it “probably the most selfish and sickening fraud case that you could have occur during a pandemic”.
“A number of people have been attempting to gain profit using the anxieties of members of the public to get a vaccine earlier than is necessary,” Mr Elliott said on Thursday.
Police were called in at the weekend and the state’s cyber crime unit set up a strike force.
A police spokesperson said people had gone to the hospital for “fraudulent vaccination bookings”.
“Police have been told the fraudulent bookings were made through an online vaccination booking service under allocations for essential healthcare workers,” the spokesperson said.
About 60 people who were ineligible for priority bookings made appointments for jabs meant for health care workers over the weekend, NSW Police say.
A “small number” paid for the bookings, Superintendent Matthew Craft said on Thursday.
The issue was uncovered after people were asked to verify their status as essential health care workers and could not do so.
Superintendent Craft said somebody had accessed the online booking system and changed the employment status for the 60 people.
Police have not yet identified who is behind the scam but are investigating whether a health staffer could be involved.
“We’re not able to attribute blame to a particular person at this time … certainly we believe that somebody that is familiar with the online system has been involved,” he said.
Mr Elliott reminded NSW residents that COVID-19 vaccinations were free.
AAP and other media outlets have previously reported that booking links intended for priority groups have been used in NSW by people who are not yet eligible for Pfizer, though not in exchange for money.
A month ago, The New Daily spoke to numerous young Sydney residents who admitted using “secret” web links to get in line for the Pfizer jabs amid frustrations they could not book COVID shots.
“When individuals are making members of the public pay for a vaccination process that is free, this is a crime,” Superintendent Craft said.
“Members of the public … are entitled to receive the vaccination, but it is about priority, and they need to be truthful when they apply online.”
NSW Health has been contacted for comment.