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Two state agencies issued warnings about contact tracing scams amid the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Pennsylvania departments of Health and Aging, scams include a caller asking for Social Security numbers or payment for services. Contact tracing is used to identify people who have come in close contact with someone who tested positive for covid-19. Those people are asked to quarantine and watch for symptoms.
“Contact-tracing is vital in the state’s efforts to stop the spread of covid-19 and we want Pennsylvanians to be confident that, if they receive a call from a contact-tracer, that the call is legitimate,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said.
Contact tracers consist of trained staff and volunteers who educate, inform and offer support to those who came in contact with a positive case. Those people are identified through a case investigation where the infected person gives a list of close contacts made while infectious.
Contact tracers typically begin the process with an initial phone call and can follow up via phone, texts, emails or through the mail. They will not identify the infected individual.
The state’s more than 1,600 contact tracers may ask for a person to verify their date of birth, address and any other phone numbers they may have. They could also ask if the person has already tested positive for covid-19 and the date and location of where they were tested.
They will not ask for bank account information, personal details unrelated to the potential exposure, photos, videos or passwords. According to both departments, scammers are pretending to be contact tracers to obtain personal information through phone calls or electronic messages.
“Scammers prefer to prey on individuals who may be more trusting, are alone, or may respond out of confusion or fear,” said Secretary of Aging Robert Torres. “Covid-19 has isolated many older adults from family and other supports. Therefore, it’s understandable that an older adult … would want to cooperate with any effort to protect themselves.”
If someone wants to verify that a caller is legitimate, they can contact the Department of Health at 877-724-3258.
The scams come as more people have stated they are willing to share their phone’s location data, allowing entities to more easily track the pandemic, a July report from three universities showed. The report noted that there was a decrease in the number of people who opted out of their phone’s automatic data collection in mid-March when the national state of emergency was declared.
This is not the first time during the pandemic scams have been reported. By March, sales pitches for products claiming to cure covid-19, social media posts warning of travel restrictions and phone and email campaigns asking people for personal information in exchange for tests and masks started popping up.
That led to U.S. Attorney Scott Brady and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro to form the Western Pennsylvania covid-19 Task Force, aimed at investigating and prosecuting coronavirus-related fraud. According to Shapiro, by Aug. 4, his department received almost 5,390 consumer complaints and issued almost 500 cease and desist letters.
“People across Pennsylvania are concerned about their health and their economic futures, and it is despicable that retailers, distributors, and wholesalers are taking advantage of people,” Shapiro said in March.
Fraud and scams, along with price gouging complaints, can be made at attorneygeneral.gov/covid19.
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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