Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on In Homeland Security.
By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
As the coronavirus pandemic evolved, local health departments have been very proactive in contact tracing. Intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, contact tracing involves identifying other people who may have been exposed once someone has a confirmed case of COVID-19.
[Related: The Many Challenges of Tracking an Infectious Disease]
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contact tracing is designed to notify citizens of their potential exposure to the coronavirus and monitor the contacts of infected people. Contact tracing supports the quarantine of those who were in contact with someone infected with the coronavirus, and the Centers for Disease Control has promoted a significant expansion of staffing resources who can work as contact tracers.
Coronavirus Contact Tracing Scammers Using Technology to Fool Victims
While technology aids contact tracing to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Better Business Bureau says that scammers and identity thieves have exploited legitimate contact tracing. The scams include unsolicited messages through texts, emails, and even social media messages that advise a victim that he or she has been exposed to someone who has a confirmed case of the coronavirus case. These scams commonly include a link to access additional information.
Due to coronavirus fears, victims open the link within these scam emails or messages. Similar to many other cyber attacks and identity theft scams, personal information is often stolen as a result.
Victims of this scam may provide personally identifying information such as Social Security numbers or dates of birth. The messages they receive are so convincing that victims believe they are communicating with a legitimate contact tracer through a local health department.
Robocalls Also Being Used by Coronavirus Scammers
The Better Business Bureau has also identified another scam that involves robocalls that claim to be a part of contact and tracing efforts associated with the coronavirus. Similarly, this scam tells the potential victim that they have been exposed to the coronavirus and provide the opportunity to speak with a “representative.”
When the scammer comes on the phone line, that scammer attempts to collect sensitive personal information that can be used in identity theft. Some of these scam artists may even ask for personal information associated with financial accounts.
Identifying a Legitimate Contact Tracer
Since legitimate contact tracers do commonly contact those that may have been exposed to coronavirus via phone, it is important to quickly and accurately confirm whether the call that you receive is legitimate or a scam.
Legitimate contact tracers will properly identify themselves and should say that they are a representative from the local health department or other official organization engaged in contact tracing. One of the best ways to confirm whether the call is legitimate is to advise the caller that you will verify that person’s identity by contacting the local health department or a specific official organization. Hanging up and placing a call to confirm the representative’s identity is the most effective way to avoid becoming a victim.
Legitimate contact tracers are likely to ask for basic information such as your name and address, recent travels, and medical history. However, legitimate representatives will never ask for bank account details.
Also, contact tracing is usually conducted by telephone. Any communication via email, text or social media should raise immediate concern of a scam.
Keep in mind that scammers will likely exploit every opportunity to obtain personally identifiable information. Taking the extra steps to confirm the identity of someone alleging to be a contact tracer can help you avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.
Also, be mindful of websites that offer to sell items known to be in short supply, such as hand sanitizers, disinfectants and masks. Some scammers have used fake websites to collect personal information and money under the guise of selling products that are sold out in most locations. Ideally, purchase these products from major name brand websites, rather than using unfamiliar websites.
About the Author: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor at American Military University. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Central America, and Europe on the topics of human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, police responses to domestic terrorism, and various topics in policing. Most recently, he presented at the 2019 International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.
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