Don’t be fooled by COVID-19 contact tracing scammers

May 19, 2020, 12:18 PM | Updated: 6:13 pm
COVID-19 contact tracing scammers...
Texts claiming to be from the Health Department are the latest trick scammers are using (Image credit: Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — Scammers want your money. And federal regulators warn, those scammers are now posing as the Health Department to get it — by tricking you with a message about COVID-19 contact tracing.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states they are now receiving complaints from people of text messages saying they were in close contact with someone diagnosed with the coronavirus.  The message then tells people to click on a link for more information.

Many times, the FTC says, this link comes from COVID-19 scammers and installs malware on phones. Or it takes people to another page asking for personal information.

Daniel O’Bannon is the director of Utah’s Division of Consumer Protection.

“Scammers always ask, ‘What can I do to get someone’s attention, what can I do to get them to click a link or give up personal information?'” O’Bannon said.

And the best way, said O’Bannon “is to impersonate a legitimate organization and feed into your fears.”

The scammers are capitalizing on a legitimate COVID-19 practice: contact tracing. That’s when the Health Department attempts to track down people who were exposed to someone with the coronavirus.  

Health officials will call to give notification, but will only advise people how to treat symptoms, or in the case of COVID-19, stay quarantined. 

“They will never ask for bank account or Social Security numbers,” said O’Bannon.

If you receive a text message or a phone call from someone claiming you were exposed to others with coronavirus, O’Bannon said you should never hit “return call” or click any provided links. Instead, he advises looking up the number of your local health department and calling them yourself. 

The FTC said it received 49,046 reports related to COVID-19, and people lost $35.57 million to scammers.

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

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Don’t be fooled by COVID-19 contact tracing scammers