Scammers See New Route to Personal Info in Contact Tracing

According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers are now using what was meant as a tool for good, for evil, by sending text messages to bait consumers into giving out their private information.

by Eplunus Colvin, Pine Bluff Commercial / May 20, 2020
Shutterstock/Tero Vesalainen

(TNS) — With the state's numbers steadily increasing in COVID-19 cases, contact tracing has begun in Arkansas.

The Department of Health has begun reaching out to people who may have been exposed or who have tested positive for the virus in order to contact trace.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked Arkansans to "help us out" and answer calls from health officials.

On Saturday during his COVID-19 update, Hutchinson expressed that the state would be able to detect a coronavirus surge if it returns this fall.

"We do have sufficient capability for contact tracing, but Dr. Smith is continually trying to improve it," said Hutchinson. "To illustrate, when this emergency first started, we had three nurses who did contact tracing and now it's well over 150, or I think 180 was the last number that I heard."

Contact Tracing is the process of identifying people who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, instructing them to quarantine and monitoring their symptoms daily.

They work with an infected person to get the names and phone numbers for everyone that infected person came in close contact with while the possibly infectious.

Hutchinson said work is being done now to incorporate contact tracing into the state's economic infrastructure as things begin opening back up.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers are now using what was meant for good, for evil, by sending text messages to bait consumers of their private information.

"People who had contact with someone infected with COVID-19 may first get a text message from the health department, telling them they'll get a call from a specific number," said Colleen Tressler Consumer Education Specialist, FTC. "The tracer who calls will not ask for personal information, like a Social Security number. At the end of the call, some states ask if the contact would like to enroll in a text message program, which sends daily health and safety reminders until the 14-day quarantine ends. But tracers won't ask you for money or information like your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer."

Tressler says that there's no question, contact tracing plays a vital role in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19 but scammers, pretending to be contact tracers and taking advantage of how the process works, are also sending text messages.

"Theirs are spam text messages that ask you to click a link," said Tressler. "Unlike a legitimate text message from a health department, which only wants to let you know they'll be calling, this message includes a link to click."

Hutchinson discussed contact tracing using numbers from the weekend before. He presented a flow chart that showed the positive COVID-19 case contacted by a nurse.

A contact tracer calls to get a list of contact. The tracer then reaches out to those contacts.

Hutchinson said all contacts are enrolled in the SARA alert system, which allows those at risk for the virus to enter their symptoms daily. Those contacts without symptoms are instructed to isolate for 14 days. Those with symptoms are told to get tested.

"We need everyone to be responsive to the Health Department if they call," Hutchinson said. "Case tracking is our most effective defense."

While contact tracing is important, the FTC warns consumers to don't take the bait on suspicious text messages.

"Clicking on the link will download software onto your device, giving scammers access to your personal and financial information," said Tressler. "Ignore and delete these scam messages."

©2020 Pine Bluff Commercial, Ark. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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