This post will be updated as more information becomes available

Contact tracing scams have begun to pick up steam with the evolving technology coming closer to becoming a reality. Some of those scams include hackers and fraudsters posing as contact tracers – both online and in person – trying to steal personally identifiable information (PII), personal health information (PHI) and other personal data.

The United States began the re-opening process after the COVID-19 pandemic closed many aspects of daily life. That is expected to include many precautions to keep people safe, including contact tracing – a method used to find the people who may have come into contact with someone infected with COVID-19. In fact, many people anticipate contact tracing will play a large part in keeping people informed of their risk of exposure until a vaccine is available.

Apple and Google are cooperating to ensure the different phone operating systems are compatible for contact tracing purposes. Apple and Google are also working with health departments across the country to figure out how to roll-out an effective contact tracing Bluetooth-based system that would allow public health departments to create their own contact tracing apps. Despite doubts from some health officials on how useful Apple and Google’s optional systems will be, the two tech companies have developed the digital contact tracing system, and have included it in their latest software updates. Contact tracing apps have already rolled out in other countries. According to MIT Technology Review, so far, there are 25 contact tracing efforts globally. However, none of those apps work in the U.S. Consumers should beware of any attempt to entice them or someone else to download and register for an app.

While app development efforts continue, scammers are tricking people into contact tracing scams using fake apps that steal their personal information. The Better Business Bureau of Connecticut warns people about text messages in their area that appear to be linked to COVID-19 contact tracing, alerting people that they were near someone who tested positive for coronavirus. Police in Washington state are alerting residents of contact tracing scams going around trying to steal sensitive information, including credit card information and Social Security numbers. The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District urges residents not to fall for contact tracing scams, adding that they will never alert people of a positive test via text.

In all of these scams, fraudsters are trying to steal people’s personal information, whether it is by trying to get them to click on unknown malicious links or simply asking for them to provide it. Hackers then have the ability to turn right around and sell the information, which could lead to identity theft. Even when legitimate apps are available, users should check to see if the data they share will be used for marketing purposes without their permission or sold for other purposes.

To avoid a contact tracing scam, people should stay informed on the latest contact tracing details, as well as the most up-to-date COVID-19 information from their state and local health departments. Local health departments will inform people of what a legitimate contact tracer will ask and any protocols they will follow. If anyone gets a text or notification they are not expecting that they were in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, they should ignore it and call their local health department to confirm the validity of the message. They should not provide any information they are asked for, nor should they click any links, open any attachments or download any files.

If anyone believes they have fallen victim to a contact tracing scam or is a victim of identity theft, they can live-chat with an Identity Theft Resource Center expert advisor or call toll-free at 888.400.5530. An advisor can help victims create an action plan on the steps they need to take that are customized to their needs.


You might also like…

Online Shopping Safety a Priority During Coronavirus Pandemic

Five State Unemployment Department Data Exposures Uncover System Flaws

COVID-19 Could Lead to Increase in Travel Loyalty Account Takeover

While people continue to take protective measures in order to avoid COVID-19, some groups are actively working harder. It’s not just the essential workers, healthcare workers or first responders. Unfortunately, scammers are also putting in overtime to take advantage of the current situation.

Recent reports of quarantine-based scams have included unemployment benefits identity theft, IRS stimulus check scams, and now dating app scams and COVID-19 romance scams. While these have always been a known threat, newsworthy events like the COVID-19 pandemic often lead to an increase in scam activity. Scammers are increasing the amount of romance scams with more people on dating apps due to isolation. Also, scammers are changing their stories to include COVID-19. Fortunately, while the other virus-related scams may be hard to spot due to the fact that they are based on actual current events, avoiding a COVID-19 romance scam might be a little bit easier.

It is important that consumers know the signs:

  1. A plausible reason why the person is reaching out to strangers. Even before the virus, the reason usually had to do with boredom and isolation, which are abundant right now.
  2. A job or location that prevents them from communicating on a regular basis. Again, before the virus, those jobs often included occupations like off-shore oil rig worker, deep-sea fishing boat captain or deployed soldier. Due to COVID-19, it is just as easy to blame the virus, especially if the person claims to be a hospital worker, medic or another essential employee.
  3. A sympathetic story. While a lonely, deployed soldier story is prone to tug at the victim’s heartstrings, an EMT, nurse or doctor who just needs someone to talk to as they attempt to process the horrors of frontline medical work could be viewed as a more sympathetic story.
  4. The request for money. The sympathy mentioned above goes directly into the request for funds. Right now there are probably a lot of people who would help a nurse or medic purchase masks and gloves, and who has not heard the reports of price gouging and scarcity. If the scammer poses as an out-of-work employee, a victim might help a single parent buy groceries for their child.
  5. The cat-and-mouse game. Romance scams are a vicious cycle of flattery and compliments combined with plausible requests for money. Following through with the money earns the victim even more of the attention they crave. Hesitating or refusing earns them the silent treatment.

In order for consumers to protect themselves from COVID-19 romance scams and other scams, consumers have to be aware of the threat and spot the telltale signs. Romance scams rely on a formulaic model, namely an individual who reaches out on social media, via text message or some other electronic method. They begin a lengthy, personal conversation, one that contains an extremely high, frequent amount of discussion. Within days, they begin making statements such as, “I’ve never felt this way about anyone,” or “I know this is sudden, but I can really see us having a future together.”

Within a short period of “grooming” the victim with promises of visits and even marriage, the story crops up. One example could be a story about a terrible incident that has occurred and the scammer even has the funds to fix it, but they cannot access their money in time to fix the issue. The scammer may ask the victim to pay the money with the promise that they will be paid back immediately. From there, more requests for money could follow, even as the scammer continues to string along victims with promises of long-term relationships.

Remember, there is no plausible excuse why someone would need to reach out for money from someone they have not met in person. People should protect themselves from these and other scams by learning to spot the warning signs and distancing themselves if any red flags appear. If anyone believes they are a victim of a COVID-19 romance scam, they can contact the Identity Theft Resource Center to live chat with an expert advisor. If they do not have internet access, they can call toll-free at 888.400.5530. They will have to leave a message due to advisors working remotely. However, advisors will work to return calls as quickly as possible


You might also like…

ARE YOU AN IRS NON-FILER? TIPS TO AVOID A STIMULUS CHECK IDENTITY SCAM

COVID-19 PANDEMIC LEADS TO UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS IDENTITY THEFT

LOOKING TO GIVE DURING COVID-19? DON’T FALL FOR A CHARITABLE GIVING SCAM

When any disaster or crisis – including the current global pandemic – occurs, people jump into action to help those impacted by the event. Scammers choose to take advantage of that giving spirit, which is why many people are susceptible to charitable giving scams in times of crisis. Scammers look to take advantage of other’s good deeds and turn it into a personal gain for themselves – both financially and by getting access to personally identifiable information.

That is exactly what has happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, according to Dayton Daily News, scammers have been going door-to-door in Dayton, Ohio posing as The Dayton Foundation. Scammers have been trying to sell coupon books that claim people’s donations will go towards the fight against COVID-19. It is one of many charitable giving scams.

However, there are things people can do to reduce their risk of falling for a charitable giving scam.

1. When giving to any non-profit, people should only give to trusted sources. This way they will know their donation will not fall into the hands of a scammer. If someone does not recognize the name of a charity that is soliciting funds, they should be cautious.

2. Legitimate donations can be made on a cell-phone. However, scammers can also send out texts that look real. People should find the charity they want to donate to and initiate the contact.

3. People should do their research before giving. Charities can be investigated through the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

Independent charity evaluator, The Charity Navigator, has also compiled a list of ways to make sure people’s donations are going to a real charity.

The Federal Trade Commission has also recommended people conduct Google searches like “best charity” or “highly-rated charity” to help decipher the real ones from the fake ones.

4. People should ask the charities for information about their mission, goals and history – including requesting their 990-form. If they are unable to answer those questions, they are probably part of a charitable giving scam. Any legitimate non-profit organization should be able to answer people’s questions about their organization and their giving guidelines.

5. Donors should beware of the scammer’s tricks. They will often try to rush people to make their donations and will use names that are similar to existing charities. Fake organizations might also try to tell people their donation is tax-deductible when it is not.

If people have questions regarding charitable giving scams, they are encouraged to contact the Identity Theft Resource Center through the website to live chat with an expert advisor.

For those that cannot access the website, they can call the toll-free hotline (888.400.5530) and leave a message for an advisor. While the advisors are working remotely, there may be a delay in responding but someone will provide assistance as quickly as possible.


You might also be interested in…

This post will be updated as more information becomes available

UPDATE: 4/29/2020- Anyone who did not file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 and have dependent children must register with the IRS by Tuesday, May 5, at noon EST to get an additional $500 economic impact payment for their dependents. If anyone misses the deadline, they will have to wait until they file their 2020 tax return to get the money. For more information on how to fill out a non-filer form, and how to avoid a non-filer scam, click here.

UPDATE: 4/15/2020 – Stimulus check have begun being distributed and people are already seeing them show up in their bank accounts. The IRS has created a portal where people can check the status of their economic impact payment. It could take a few minutes to load the website due to overload. However, people will be able to see what day they are expected to receive their payment, as well as the payment method.

Non-filers can now also file through the IRS to get their payment sooner. To learn how to file, and how to avoid a non-filer scam click here.

UPDATE 4/13/2020 – The Treasury Department and the IRS have announced that the distribution of stimulus checks will begin this week and that most of them will be deposited directly, requiring no action. Anyone who does not typically file a tax return will need to file a simple tax return to receive their stimulus check.

If there is anyone who has not filed their 2019 tax return but did file a 2018 return, the IRS will use the information provided in the 2018 return. The Treasury also plans on creating a web-based portal where people can enter their direct-deposit information online. The stimulus checks will be available to consumers through the end of 2020. For more information, consumers can visit IRS.gov/coronavirus. To learn more about the stimulus checks, click here. For tax rules to help you fill out your 2019 taxes, click here.

ORIGINAL 3/27/2020- With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting everyone across the United States, the U.S. federal government passed the largest stimulus package ever to help minimize the financial impacts for businesses and consumers. Coronavirus stimulus checks are being mentioned in the news daily, which is leading fraudsters to come up with stimulus check scams.

While there are a lot of questions about the $2 trillion stimulus package and stimulus check payments, most consumers should not have to take any action to receive their stimulus check because the payment will be directly deposited by the IRS into their bank account from the information provided on their 2018 or 2019 tax return. Payments will begin arriving in mid-April.

If anyone receives any messages or letters regarding a government check, it is very likely a coronavirus stimulus check scam. The government will not ask anyone for their Social Security number, bank account number or credit card number; the government will also not ask anyone to pay a fee upfront to get their government check; there will not be a way to “expedite payment” through a service provider either.

If anyone did not provide their bank account information on their last tax return, the IRS will mail people their stimulus checks. There have also been discussions about the possibility of sending some payments to consumers on prepaid debit cards to speed up the process. While that is a possibility, if someone reaches out saying that they can get the stimulus payment to you on a debit/credit card, please report it to local authorities or the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) to verify whether it is real or fake.

With the stimulus package passing, people can expect to see a rise in stimulus check scams. When the government ends up mailing checks and/or prepaid debit cards, people can also expect to see a rise in prepaid card scams and physical mail theft.

To avoid any of these scams, consumers should make sure they have filed their taxes and have provided their direct deposit information to the IRS in their latest tax return. Consumers should also check to see if they are qualified to receive a coronavirus stimulus check, and for how much.

Finally, if consumers receive anything that does not seem correct or something they are not expecting, they should ignore it and go directly to the source to verify its legitimacy. There is a possibility it could be a stimulus check scam.

If people have questions regarding stimulus check scams, they are encouraged to contact the Identity Theft Resource Center through the website to live chat with an expert advisor. For those that cannot access the website, they can call the toll-free hotline (888.400.5530) and leave a message for an advisor. While the advisors are working remotely, there may be a delay in responding but someone will assist you as quickly as possible.


You might also like…

Due to the coronavirus, the stock market is making headlines right now, for all the wrong reasons. Scammers see it as the perfect time to prey on consumers with investment scams.

Who Is It Targeting: Small-time, first-time, and seasoned investors

What Is It: Various scams that target novice and seasoned investors

What Are They After: When the stock market makes headlines—whether good or bad—scammers are more prone to come after unsuspecting consumers and steal their money. Some investment scams may simply tell victims to invest heavily in a certain stock, while others will actively trick investors into handing over their personally identifiable information. With news of the coronavirus growing each day, this is also a time when spoofed emails—such as those that appear to come from a financial institution or brokerage—can lure someone in and steal their account access.

How Can You Avoid It:

  • Do not act on instinct or be driven by panic
  • Remember that the stock market is a long-term prospect, not a “get rich quick” scheme
  • Always seek out professional information before you respond or take action

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft or an investment scam, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at 888.400.5530. You can also live chat with an expert advisor. Find more information about current scams and alerts here. For full details of this scam check out this article from TMJ4.com


Scammers have gotten creative as the COVID-19 pandemic has driven most people to spend their days in their homes – including creating phishing emails that attack both businesses and consumers. Fraudsters are currently taking advantage of the millions of people working from home. They may try representing themselves as the U.S. government, whether it be about a stimulus check, unemployment benefits, etc. Now, with the National Guard and other types of support being implemented in certain areas, the alarm is being sounded on scammers going door-to-door.

The National Guard is being deployed to assist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency work in some states. Some of the aspects of their duties include helping FEMA with gathering swabs and transporting them to certified labs for testing; delivering medical supplies as directed and creating medical stations. The National Guard says they have been activated for logistical support, and are not being deployed for enforcement. That means they will not be going door-to-door to implement any self-quarantines or shelter-in-place orders. If a “military personnel” comes to a person’s door posing as a National Guardsmen, the healthcare department or a healthcare professional regarding COVID-19, whether it is with a “test,” “cure” or regarding sheltering in place, it is likely a scam.

With that being the case, interactions someone may have with the National Guard would be at an identified FEMA drive-thru testing station or designated location for medical assistance. These two scenarios are examples of where you may be asked to provide personal information to the National Guard in reference to COVID-19 relief.

These types of door-to-door scams are not uncommon during a time of crisis. Scammers typically use them as an opportunity to pose as someone who can help people, but in reality, all they will do is hurt them.

If someone is going door-to-door posing as a utility worker, law enforcement, government agency or healthcare professional, ask for their identification before engaging in any conversation. Providing an ID card doesn’t always mean the person is legitimate because it is easy for a scammer to create what might look like an ID, dress up and act like someone else. If the person at the door is reluctant to show their ID or you have concerns about their legitimacy, close the door and call the organization that they are representing.

Also, if someone comes to a person’s door offering that if a fee is paid, they can provide faster service for aid, it is a scam. In fact, that is one of the go-to tactics scammers use to lure victims in. In the event that you are asked to provide personally identifiable information by someone on your doorstep, calling the organization that they are representing could prevent you from self-compromising sensitive information.

Finally, if someone is uncomfortable with anyone who comes to their door, they should call their local law enforcement. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

If people have questions regarding COVID-19 scams, they are encouraged to contact the Identity Theft Resource Center through the website to live chat with an expert advisor. For those that cannot access the website, call the toll-free hotline (888.400.5530) and leave a message for an advisor. While the advisors are working remotely, there may be a delay in responding but someone will assist you as quickly as possible.


Read the latest…

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow and seriously impacts everyone across the country, so do the number of COVID-19 scams that will pop-up trying to get access to personally identifiable information (PII) and finances. It can be difficult to decipher which emails, phone calls, social media posts or text messages are scams versus legitimate ones. Scammers will always take advantage of new opportunities in a time of crisis like evictions and foreclosures assistance, unemployment benefits, stimulus payments, etc. Here are some tips to help navigate those emails, text messages and voicemails:

Go to the source

Unsure if something is legitimate? Go to the source of the potential assistance. That means if the offer of unemployment benefits seems to be uncharacteristic, go directly to the employment development department and check their website. If it has to do with housing – whether that’s eviction or foreclosure assistance – head to that source (local housing commission, banking institution, etc.). Don’t trust an inbound message that isn’t verifiable.

Unsure of how a fraudster might try to get consumers to self-compromise?

Based on experience, the ITRC anticipates that they will give these a go:

1. Government Checks: Consumers receiving an email or phone call from someone that claims they can ensure a check from the government for an individual right now; it is likely a COVID-19 scam. The government is still working on the details of how these funds will be made available as of the original date of this post. For specific details, consumers can always visit local, state or federal government websites to get the most accurate information.

2. Asking for Verification of PII: If someone calls asking for a Social Security number, driver’s license number, credit card number or bank account information, it is a high probability that it is a scam. Say “K, Bye”, hang up and call the company directly to see if the offer is legitimate. If it is real, they will have a record of the calls and offers that were made.

3. Pay Upfront for Government Assistance: The government will not ask consumers to pay upfront to get any of the relief money. Scammers have attempted this before with the “Federal Government Empowerment Money Program” scam.

4. Social Media: If consumers receive messages on a social media platform claiming to be the government for anything regarding COVID-19, anticipate that this is a COVID-19 scam, too. Report it to the social media platform and block the sender. The government does not contact individuals through social media. Additionally, posts or messages enticing individuals to “sign-up” to receive more information on how to get access to more information or funds should be considered gateways to compromising PII.

5. Emails: There are loads of phishing emails under the guise as COVID-19 help. If an email arrives that wasn’t expected, ignore it and go directly to the source to determine whether or not it is legitimate. Under no circumstances should consumers click on any links or open any attachments from unanticipated emails or texts. COVID-19 scams via phishing emails are going around right now attacking both businesses and consumers.

6. Phone Calls: COVID-19 phone scams are beginning to gain steam and something else consumers should be aware of. The advice for phone scams is pretty similar to email scams. Don’t answer calls from numbers you do not recognize and do not return calls from voicemails if you aren’t completely sure from whom the call originated. Should a call regarding COVID-19 assistance inadvertently get answered, say “K, Bye!,” hang up and directly call the source. Verify the legitimacy of the call.

7. Grandparent Scams: Grandparent scams have been around for a long time and play on the fear of loved ones. Recently, scammers have been posing as family members that are sick and need money to pay their medical bills. It is important for people to resist the urge to act, no matter how dramatic the story is. People should also never make a payment over email or the phone to someone they were not expecting to hear from. Instead, they should hang up and reach out to the mentioned loved one directly to see if they are okay.

Scammers Take Advantage of Public Events

Every time there is a crisis, natural disaster or newsworthy event, expect scammers to come out in full force looking to take advantage and play on the public’s fear of the unknown. It is important to not let scammers take advantage of us while scared and unsure of what to do. These tips should help reduce the risk of falling victim to a COVID-19 scam.

Contact ITRC For Free Assistance

You can call the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free if you think you may have been a victim of any type of scam at 888.400.5530. You can also live chat with one of our expert advisors for assistance.

Don’t forget to download the ITRC’s ID Theft Help App to help in managing your identity crime case should you find that you are a victim of a scam.


Read more:

As too many victims have already learned, there is something worse than just being a scammer’s prey. That something worse is being pulled into the scam yourself until you are (inadvertently) a criminal as well. There are a variety of scams, including romance scams, work-from-home scams and lottery scams, in which being snared in the scammer’s trap can leave you facing jail time. It is what is called a money mule scam.

In a money mule scam, criminals get someone else to move funds for them. It might be cashing checks and mailing the money to other people, depositing funds into your account and buying items that you send elsewhere, or any other similar kind of transaction.

First, never give money to someone you have met online, no matter what excuse they give you. However, the flip side is that you should never accept money from someone either. Ask yourself why this person is using you as their own personal ATM, or why you are the one buying iPads or smartphones and shipping them to other people. Why can’t your “friend” do it themselves?

The answer is not a good one. There is no legitimate, legal reason why someone can manage to send you money but cannot make a purchase for themselves or transfer that money to a different individual. The only reason to do it is to avoid putting their name on the paper trail, or because residents of their home country are not allowed to make the purchase or transaction. Most likely, though, is that the original funds were stolen. You are now the person who deposited that stolen money into your bank account, and you can be subject to a criminal investigation as a result.

One variation of the money mule scam includes overpayment scams. This happens when someone sends you money—often for a fake “work from home” job, an invoice to your company, or even a purchase like buying your used car—and then claims they have overpaid you. When you accept their funds and send some of it back, you are not only taking the risk that their check was bad and the refund actually came out of your own account balance. Worse, their original funds may have been stolen. You took possession of the stolen money (which can be a crime) and then turned around and moved those funds back to them from your account, which can fall under money laundering.

What do you do if you think someone is using you as part of a money mule scam?

  1. Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center and the Federal Trade Commission for help and information.
  2. Stop making any sort of transactions immediately.
  3. Monitor your accounts to ensure the scammers are not still able to access your funds.
  4. File a police report if you have lost any of your own funds in interacting with the scammers.

Money mule scams are some of the most dangerous scams because they can inadvertently turn victims into criminals. Do what you can to educate yourself to reduce your risk of falling victim.


You might also like…

Did you get a letter in the mail about the census? The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has seen a rise in our contact center through calls and LiveChat messages recently about a letter from the U.S. Census that people have been getting in the mail titled “My 2020 Census.” Callers are afraid it might be a scam because of the word “my” before “2020 Census.”

The ITRC has verified the legitimacy of this letter and is not a scam. The official U.S. Census Bureau website “2020census.gov” will direct people to “ https://my2020census.gov/,” where you will start your individual questionnaire. You will then be asked to log in with the 12-digit Census code provided in the materials that were mailed to you. It is safe to login with the 12-digit code and is not a scam.

The U.S. Census Bureau also has an alert on its website that individuals will receive this letter between March 12-20, 2020.

Image from https://my2020census.gov/

The ITRC is encouraged by all of the calls and messages to the contact center because if something seems suspicious, you should always reach out to a verifiable resource to confirm or deny the validity of the letter, email, etc. The U.S. Census Bureau also has a helpful page about how to verify a census survey, mailing or contact here: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/surveyhelp/verify-a-survey.html  

Update as of 3/20/20: During this time of quarantine due to COVID-19, all Census field operations have been suspended. As noted in a press release, “Beginning today, in support of guidance on what we can all do to help slow the spread of coronavirus, 2020 Census field operations will be suspended for two weeks until April 1, 2020.” This means if someone knocks at your door claiming to be from the U.S. Census Bureau, it is a scam and you do not provide them any information.

If you get a letter in the mail in the coming days titled “My Census 2020,” follow the instructions on it and take part in the survey. If you have any questions, call the ITRC toll-free at 888.400.5530 or live chat with one of our advisors.


You might also be interested in…