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.
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