Contact Tracing Scams: Know the Warning Signs

Contact Tracing Scams: Know the Warning Signs


Scams are on the rise during the pandemic, as unscrupulous individuals take advantage of our fear and confusion. The most recent type of scam identified by the Federal Trade Commission involves fake contact tracing. Here’s how to keep yourself safe from the latest attempt to steal your personal information.

What Is Contact Tracing?

Contact tracing is a vital tool in managing the spread of COVID-19. If a person tests positive for the virus, contact tracers will try to track down everyone that person interacted with–and potentially infected.

In the event that you encountered a person with the virus, contact tracers will send you a notice. They may recommend that you isolate yourself for fourteen days or, at a minimum, to practice strict social distancing. The notice will not include the original patient’s name.

How the Scam Operates

Most of us have never even heard of “contact tracing” before the pandemic hit. That means the vast majority of people may struggle to tell the difference between a legitimate notice about exposure to COVID-19 and a fake one.

The scammers will send you a text, stating that you have been exposed to the virus. The message will instruct you to click a link for more information. Unfortunately, that link is actually going to download malicious software onto your device. That malware can allow the scammers to access your personal information and even your financial accounts.

Real vs. Fake Message

A real message from an authorized contact tracer will never include a link. Instead, a representative from your local public health agency–either at the city or state level–will send a text message indicating that you should expect a phone call soon.

The contact tracer will explain everything you need to know in a phone call. They won’t ask you to click a link or download an app.

Many scam and spam messages will also include basic grammar errors. However, scammers and getting more sophisticated every day, so never trust a message just because it “looks right.” If you’re unsure, delete the message. You will still receive a phone call from a contact tracer with the relevant information if the message was legitimate.

More Than Just Theft

In addition to the threat of personal identity theft, these scams pose another danger. People may be less willing to trust any message claiming to be from a contact tracer. That’s a big problem during a public health crisis.

“Engagement of the public with contact tracers must be widely accepted in order to protect friends, family, and community members from future potential infections,” the CDC stated.

Make sure that you can spot the difference between a fake message and a real one. Scam Catchers will continue updating our coverage of COVID-19 fraud as new information becomes available.