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Scammers pretend to be COVID-19 contact-tracers to get personal information from victims

Local health departments are using contact tracing to slow the spread of COVID-19. It is basically informing people they may have been exposed after being in contact with someone who tests positive for the virus.

The Better Business Bureau is sounding the alarm after multiple versions of copycat contact tracing scams have popped up. Officials say it’s important to know the difference between attempted fraud, and a legitimate call from the department of health.

Contact tracing has been a core part of public health, way before the coronavirus pandemic.

“Contact tracing is not new to the Health Department, it’s been going on for many years, we’ve been doing it with HIV, syphilis, hepatitis A more recently,” said Kevin Watler with the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County.

The tracers track down newly infected people and anyone they may have had close contact with an effort to isolate and stop the disease from spreading.

- Hillsborough County contact tracing: http://hillsborough.floridahealth.gov/newsroom/2020/06/contact-tracing-vital-public-heath.html
- CDC contact tracing: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/open-america/contact-tracing/index.html

“It’s just getting on the phone and doing good old disease detective work,” Maggie Hall with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County said.  “Where have you been, how many days, think back to where you were?”

But if you get a call from someone saying: “I’m following up on your COVID-19 test. Do you have a few minutes?” do not give them any personal information until you can be sure they are legitimate.

According to the BBB, people are now reporting receiving texts, emails, social media messages, and robocalls from scammers trying to cash-in on your fear of COVID-19 and the messages can seem authentic.

“The big tip-off to the scam is that the scammers will use very aggressive and high-pressure tactics, they’re not going to be knowledgeable about the information about you, and they’re going to ask for real personal information,” said Bryan Ogelsby with BBB Serving West Tampa.

Scammers may ask for details like bank accounts and social security numbers to commit identity theft and steal your money.

Another key thing to know is that contact tracers always reach out with a phone call.

“So if you receive a text message, or an email, or maybe even an alert through your social media channels, this is a big red flag, do not respond to these methods of contacts,” Ogelsby said.

If you receive a phone call and still have doubts, experts say simply look up the number for the DOH they are calling from, get their name, and hang up the phone.

“Call back and say 'hey, so and so called me, their supervisor is so and so, is this legitimate?' Our epidemiology staff will take it from there,” said Hall.