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Signs Of A Contact-Tracing Scam

According to the FTC, there are certain types of information that a contact tracer will never request. If any of the following situations arise when dealing with a contact tracer, it’s probably a scam.

1. You’re prompted to click on a suspicious link.

Most often, contact tracers will get in touch with you via phone call. However, you may also receive an email or text. However, these text communications are only to let you know that a phone call is coming, according to the FTC.

One sign of a scam is a text message that requests the recipient to click a link. “Any request to click a link should be treated with suspicion,” said Matthew Fisher, an attorney who specializes in HIPAA and data privacy at the law firm Mirick O’Connell.

The same goes for emails. If you’re prompted to click a link, enter credentials or download any items, it’s a huge red flag.

“People should approach all unsolicited emails with caution, especially ones that request the user to act,” said Sherrod DeGrippo, senior director of threat research and detection at Proofpoint. She said cybercriminals will attempt to spoof email addresses and create fake websites with stolen branding from legitimate organizations to better fool people and get them to act.

DeGrippo recommended that if an email appears to come from a legitimate source, hover your mouse over any embedded links. If the link address looks weird or doesn’t take you to an official site, don’t click on it. You can also just go to the site directly by typing the official website address directly in the browser rather than through the link.

“Also, legitimate emails and sites usually do not have major spelling mistakes or poor grammar, so check the wording and layout before doing anything,” she said. “If something looks off, then don’t click, open or enter in any personal information.”

2. The contact tracer asks for money.

Contact tracing is a free service performed by state and local governments and the employees they hire. There is never any money exchanged between contact tracers and the people they contact. If a so-called contact tracer asks you for money, including cash, gift cards, wire transfer or cryptocurrency, the FTC warns, it’s a scam.

3. They ask for other sensitive personal information.

Even though contact tracers need to ask you some basic details such as your phone number, there’s no need to collect sensitive information such as account numbers or your Social Security number, Fisher noted: “A legitimate contact tracer does not want or need account information as that does not have a connection to infection risk.”

If they ask for this type of personal information, they’re likely attempting to steal your identity.

4. Your immigration status comes up.

Your immigration status has nothing to do with tracking the spread of COVID-19. That means a contact tracer will never ask about it. “If they do, you can bet it’s a scam,” the FTC writes.

How To Identify A Legitimate Contact Tracer

Though it’s important to answer a contact tracer’s call and cooperate with their instructions, you’re right to treat any unknown caller with suspicion. If you’re unsure about the person on the other end of the line, request their name, identification number and phone number so you can call them back after verifying who they are with your local health department.

If you believe you’ve been contacted by a scammer, Fisher said, you should report it to the Federal Trade Commission, or the attorney general or consumer protection agency in your state.

“Any of those recipients will be well-versed in handling complaints related to potential scams,” Fisher said.

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