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U.S. Public Warned Against COVID-19 Contact Tracing Fraud Schemes

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The Federal Government has alerted the people of the United States about emerging efforts to steal money and sensitive information through contact tracing scams on the pretext COVID-19 data collection.

A contact tracing process was initiated in the U.S. in the wake of COVID-19 to identify people who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus and instruct them to quarantine and monitor their symptoms.

Contact tracers are usually hired by a state's department of public health. They work with an infected person to get the names and phone numbers for everyone that person came in close contact with while possibly infectious.

The Justice Department, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Trade Commission issued a joint statement warning that fraudsters, taking advantage of the pandemic, are attempting to exploit contact tracing to steal both money and personal information.

Contact tracing scams often appear in the form of text messages or telephone calls seeking money, bank account, or credit card numbers, along with other sensitive information not required for authentic contact tracing.

The government agencies said that depending on the state, a person who had contact with someone infected with COVID-19 will either get a telephone call or a text message from the health department indicating that the person will be receiving a telephone call from a specific number. They made it clear that state health departments will not text individuals asking them to call a telephone number or to click a link.

"You may receive a call, email, text or visit from a contact tracer, and you should not hesitate to talk with them," said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "But, if they ask you for money, bank account information, your Social Security number, or to click on a link, those are sure signs of a scam."

Scammers may offer fake contact tracing jobs to collect both Social Security numbers and fees. They also may send text messages or emails with fake links, or call people pretending to be contact tracers.

"Clicking on a link in the text message or email will download malware onto your device, giving scammers access to your personal and financial information," the statement said. Users have been advised to ignore and delete these scam messages.

The government noted that real contact tracers will never ask for a Social Security number, bank account number, or credit card number, and will never ask for payment.

The Justice Department, HHS and FTC urged anyone who has spotted a contact tracing scam or any fraud connected to COVID-19 to report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721 or online at www.Justice.gov/DisasterComplaintForm or ftc.gov/complaint.

COVID-19 fraud is rapidly evolving in the country as cities and states begin to reopen for business and implement contact tracing measures in their reopening plans.

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