Scammers across the state of California are jumping at the opportunity to monetize the current COVID-19 pandemic by posing as contact tracers and orchestrating fraud schemes using texts and phone calls.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department warned the public on July 13 via Twitter that “scams involving fraudulent COVID-19 contact tracers are being reported across the state.” The scams are often text messages with a clickable link, the tweet adds.
Clicking the link downloads malware on a mobile device that allows the scammer to steal personal information. Red flags include messages that ask for Social Security numbers or credit card information. Health officials will never ask a person for that type of personal information, the department said.
The heightened threat of scams comes as Orange County experiences a surge in reported cases of COVID-19. County health officials on July 21 reported 20 new deaths, bringing the total to 513, and 990 additional confirmed cases of the disease. With a total of 30,976 confirmed cases, the county now ranks second in the state overall.
Under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “California Connected” program introduced on May 22, community health workers are able to speak with those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and alert others they may have been exposed, while ensuring all personally identifiable information remains confidential.
Contact tracing serves as an integral piece in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 as it helps diagnose patients earlier, improving their likelihood of being cured, and reduces the chance of the disease spreading to others.
“It sickens the soul that there are people out there who make it their business to scam you as most of us seek to band together to respond to the coronavirus pandemic,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a June 8 press release. Real tracers will only ask about medical symptoms and other people who may have been contacted, according to the release.
“Real tracers will only send you texts or emails that say they’ll be calling you—not ask you to click or download anything,” the Federal Trade Commission warned.
The FTC urges those who are suspicious of fraud to contact their state health department and confirm whether or not the person getting in touch with them is a legitimate contact tracer.