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Monday, August 10, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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BBB Tip of the Week: Contact tracing scams

By Tyler Russell BBB Northwest and Pacific

It’s alarming to imagine a call stating you have been exposed to COVID-19. Anyone who receives such an alert would understandably provide the caller with whatever information they requested if it meant preserving their health. But what if you just gave your personal information to a stranger, not a health official? It’s happening, and it’s making work harder for those trying to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Recently, customers at some Idaho businesses were exposed to COVID-19. Public health officials established contact tracing programs to warn those who may be affected. Unfortunately, scammers are abusing those efforts for their personal gain.

Better Business Bureau is seeing this play out by way of unsolicited texts, emails or social media messages. The notification explains that you came in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The message instructs you to self-isolate and provides a link for more information. Alarmed, you are tempted to click and get more details. But don’t fall for it! These links can contain malware that download directly to your device.

Another version of this involves a robocall claiming to be part of “contact and tracing efforts.” Again, the call informs you that you’ve been exposed. After electing to speak to a representative, the “contact tracer” asks you to verify personal information. While contact tracers usually do reach out by phone, be sure to hang up if the caller doesn’t meet the guidelines described below.

Identifying a real contact tracer

Contact tracers will ask you to confirm your identity, but not for financial information. Tracers will ask you to verify your name, address and date of birth. In most cases, they will already have this information on file. They will also ask about your current health, medical history and recent travels. They will not ask for any government ID numbers or bank account details.

Contact tracers will identify themselves. The call should start with the tracer providing their name and identifying themselves as calling from the department of health or another official team.

Contact tracing is typically done by phone call. Be extra wary of social media messages or texts.

A real contact tracer will never reveal the identity of the person who tested positive. If they provide a person’s name, you know it is a scam.

Think the link may be real? Double-check the URL. Scammers often buy official-looking URLs to use in their cons. Be careful that the relationship is what it pretends to be. If the message alleges to come from the local government, make sure the URL ends in .gov (for the United States). When in doubt, perform a separate internet search for the website.

Along with the BBB, the Federal Trade Commission is warning of how you can avoid text messages from fake contract tracers by filtering unwanted messages, turning on two-factor authentication and updating your phone’s software to its latest version.

To learn more about consumer issues related to coronavirus, visit bbb-businesses.org/covid-19. To read up on some general tips for avoiding scams, visit BBB.org/AvoidScams.

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