DOJ: Beware of COVID-19 contact tracing fraud schemes

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In continued effort to fight fraud connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Trade Commission are partnering to alert the public of emerging threats to steal money and sensitive information through contact tracing scams.

Contact tracing is a process underway to identify people who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, instruct them to quarantine, and monitor their symptoms. Contact tracing scams often appear in the form of text messages or telephone calls seeking money, or Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers, along with other sensitive information not required for authentic contact tracing.

“As cities and states start to reopen for business and implement contact tracing measures in their reopening plans, the Department of Justice remains committed to preventing, prosecuting, and punishing rogue actors who seek to exploit these safety efforts and who attempt to steal money and sensitive information from citizens,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen.

“COVID-19 fraud is rapidly evolving. Operating contact tracing schemes is just one method that criminals use to target unsuspecting patients nationwide, attempting to steal their personal information and commit healthcare fraud,” said Health and Human Services Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Gary Cantrell. “We continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and bring to justice those who exploit the ongoing public health crisis in order to enrich themselves.”

“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, beware if they ask you for money, bank account information, your Social Security number, or to click on a link, as those are sure signs of a scam.”

Contact tracing systems rely on people voluntarily communicating with and giving information to state health departments. The goal of contact tracing is to identify those who have been in contact with individuals that have tested positive for COVID-19 and to alert them that they may have been exposed. 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 infected person came in close contact with while possibly infectious.

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. State health departments will not text individuals asking them to call a telephone number or to click a link.

Fraudsters, seeking to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, are attempting to exploit contact tracing to steal both money and personal information. 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. Their goal is to get money, Social Security numbers, or other sensitive information not required for authentic contact tracing. 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. Ignore and delete these scam messages. Remember, real contact tracers will never ask for a Social Security number, bank account number, or credit card number, and will never ask for payment. For specifics about contact tracing in your area, check with your state government

The Justice Department, HHS and FTC encourage 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.

For more information on how to identify and report COVID-19 health care related scams, visit the OIG COVID-19 Portal at www.OIG.HHS.gov.

For more information about COVID-19 contact tracing scams and tips to protect yourself from identity theft and financial fraud, visit the Federal Trade Commission at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/05/covid-19-contact-tracing-text-message-scams.