Contact tracing may be an important tool in the fight against Covid-19, but it’s also becoming a way for scam artists to part victims from their money and personal information, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.
The goal of contact tracing is to track down people who have been exposed to the coronavirus and encourage them to isolate themselves and monitor their symptoms.
But fraudsters posing as contact tracers have begun sending out bogus texts and emails asking for bank account information, Social Security numbers, and money, the DOJ said in a joint statement with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Trade Commission.
The development is troubling in light of the central role public health officials have assigned to contact tracing in the fight to contain the spread of Covid-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stressed the need for public trust in contact tracing in order for the program to be effective.
“Engagement of the public with case investigators and contact tracers must be widely accepted in order to protect friends, family, and community members from future potential infections,” the CDC said.
Money and Information
Contact tracing scams appear in the form of text messages or telephone calls seeking money; Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers; and other sensitive information not required for authentic contact tracing, the statement said.
Authentic contact tracers seek only the names and phone numbers of the people a person has come into close contact with while infectious, it said.
Some scammers also offer fake contact tracing jobs in an effort to obtain Social Security numbers and fees.
“You may receive a call, email, text or visit from a contact tracer, and you should not hesitate to talk with them,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in the statement. “But, beware if they ask you for money, bank account information, your Social Security number, or to click on a link, as those are sure signs of a scam.”