As many of us have heard, contact tracing – figuring out all the people an infected individual has come into contact with since becoming infected – is something state and local governments need to do more of to help slow the spread of COVID-19. And over the last few weeks, the state of California has been ramping up its California Connected program to coordinate that effort statewide.
But as it often seems, whenever the world throws us a new twist, especially one with government involvement, scam artists step in to impersonate the legitimate efforts, and to take advantage of new opportunities to harvest critical personal information from a scared and perhaps under-informed public.
This morning, we’ve heard warnings from two sources – LAPD Wilshire Division Captain Shannon Paulson and LA City Attorney Mike Feuer – about scammers now impersonating COVID-19 contact tracers, asking people to supply personal information or payments…which would never be part of official contact tracing efforts.
In a message to the community this morning, Captain Paulson wrote:
“We are once again seeing the emergence of those who will take advantage of a crisis, this time in the form of Covid contact tracing scams. Contact tracing is a Health Department led effort to trace and educate the public when the possibility exists they have had contact with someone who has had a positive test return for Covid 19. This will come in the form of a telephone call or other communication where you will be advised you have been identified as having recent contact with a Covid positive patient, you will be asked about your contacts and activities, places you may have visited, etc, and then advised on precautions and testing availability. This is done to limit the spread further – just in case you may be carrying the disease yourself. The important thing: no one engaging in a valid Covid contact tracing investigation will ask for any personal financial information! They will not need your Social Security Number, banking information, or require any financial reimbursement. If you are asked for ANY of this information via phone, email, etc as part of any Covid investigation – it is a scam!”
And Feuer wrote:
“While thousands of Californians are working legitimately as contact tracers to stop the spread of the virus, scammers are faking it – trying to steal money and personal information under the guise of wanting to help.”
Feuer also provided the following video two-minute video message, in which he talks about the difference between legitimate COVID-19 contact tracing (which asks and informs people about COVID-19 symptoms and provides free testing resources), and the scam version (in which callers or emails ask for social security numbers, payments, or bank/credit card information, and which may also direct people to suspicious links online). The differences are important and easy to spot if you know what to look for – please don’t fall for the scams!
Message from Mike: Contact Tracing Scam from Mike Feuer, L.A. City Attorney on Vimeo.