As contact tracing ramps up in states across the country, state and local officials are increasingly warning of a rise in fraudulent contract tracers seeking to wrongfully obtain personal and financial information. We have previously written about contact tracing – long considered to be “a central pillar” of traditional infectious disease control – and how it works. In order to begin safely reopening their states, state and local health departments have turned to contact tracing in order to identify everyone a sick person may have potentially exposed, with the goal of identifying newly infected individuals before they become infectious to others, thereby stopping the spread before it starts.
As contact tracing has become more prevalent, however, fraudulent contact tracers have found a uniquely vulnerable population.
Legitimate contact tracers will generally work with someone who has been infected to get the name and phone number of everyone they came into close contact with while potentially infectious. After assembling a complete record, the contact tracers work their way through this list, contacting each individual personally. In some states, local health departments may initially contact a potentially infected individual first through a text message, letting them know that they will be getting a call from a specified number. Other state health departments do not text, but instead call. In either case, legitimate contract tracers will generally identify themselves as part of a local health department, and explain to the person on the phone that they may have come into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.
Fraudulent contract tracers, on the other hand, while often identifying themselves (either via phone or text message) as a contact tracers, typically attempt to solicit personal or private financial information, such as a social security number, bank account, or credit card number (either over the phone or via a hyperlink through an online form).
Importantly, a legitimate contact tracer will (i) educate the individual on COVID-19, (ii) tell them if they are at risk; and (iii) note what symptoms they should be on the lookout for. Legitimate contact tracers will never ask for:
- A social security number;
- Insurance information;
- Bank account or routing numbers;
- Credit card numbers; or
- Payment of any kind;
As has come to be the case with so many other virus-related topics, those with an ill-intent are trying their best to profit from the current situation. When it comes to contact tracing, be mindful of who asks for what personal information, and think twice before providing sensitive information. In this climate, caution is key.