The novel coronavirus dubbed COVID-19 is perhaps the most communicable disease the world has seen in nearly a century. Given the easy transmissibility of the illness, contact tracing has taken on a new significance.
If you were exposed to someone who later tested positive for COVID-19, you’d want to know about it. That early warning could be key to protecting yourself and your family members, and once you know, you can schedule your own test and impose your own household lockdown.
Contact tracing is obviously an important part of COVID-19 mitigation efforts, but there’s a growing problem that could jeopardize those efforts. Scammers are now targeting the contact tracing process, preying on the confusion and misinformation that surrounds the novel coronavirus.
So how do you know if the person claiming to be a contact tracer is legitimate, and that they’re not simply trying to steal your personal information and separate you from your hard-earned money?
Here are some key things to watch out for when contact tracers come calling.
The Vast Majority of Contact Tracing Takes Place on the Phone
You should immediately be suspicious of contact tracing outreach that takes place via email or text message. The vast majority of contact tracing efforts are done over the phone, and very few legitimate agencies use email or text messages for their initial outreach.
Even if you think the contact tracing email or text message may be legitimate, you should never click any embedded links. These links could harbor malware and viruses designed to steal your private information.
Contact Tracers Will Not Mention COVID-19 Patients by Name
In an effort to gain your trust, the scammers may tell you that a close family member or friend has tested positive for COVID-19, and that you should immediately schedule a test for the virus.
That kind of news is certainly alarming, but it’s likely not real. There are strict privacy laws in place surrounding healthcare and medical diagnoses, and contact tracers are not allowed to say who is infected, only where they have been and who they have been in contact with.
Unfortunately, the inclusion of a name often lends credibility to the scammers, fooling even those who are generally very wary of such efforts. Keep in mind, however, that bad actors can easily find this kind of information on social media, and you should not fall for the ruse.
Never Hand over Your Social Security Number or Banking Information
Another thing legitimate COVID-19 contact tracers will never do is ask for your Social Security number or banking information. If the person on the other end of the phone makes such a request, you should simply hang up.
If you have caller ID and the phone number is visible, you can contact the local police to report the suspected crime. These scams are gaining speed, and it’s important to protect your friends and neighbors as well as yourself.
Watch out for COVID-19 Testing Charges
One of the most important goals of COVID-19 contact tracing is to identify potential sources of infection and facilitate testing for the disease. Legitimate contact tracers will urge those they call to schedule a COVID-19 test as soon as possible, and they will provide a list of resources and testing sites as well.
What legitimate contact tracers will not do is demand payment up front. They will not require you to hand over credit card or bank account information, and if they do, again, just hang up.
In the vast majority of cases, you will not have to pay anything at all for a COVID-19 test, especially if you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the disease. Insurance companies are required to cover COVID-19 testing and treatment at no cost to their subscribers, and government funding generally covers testing costs for the uninsured.
Now that you know what to look for, you can safely participate in the COVID-19 contact tracing process.
The efforts of legitimate contact tracers is a key part of getting the pandemic under control, and the fact that scammers are trying to profit from their efforts is truly despicable.
Until those criminals are caught and brought to justice, the best defense is knowledge, including knowing what to look for and what kind of information to provide.