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Contact Tracer

Is That 'Contact Tracer' Really a Scammer? How to Tell

Scammers are trying to take advantage of confusion over COVID-19 contact tracing. Here's how to keep yourself safer.

If you’re contacted about possible exposure to the coronavirus, make sure it’s legit. Scammers are masquerading as contact tracers, and it’s smart to verify calls or texts before giving out any information.

A tracer’s job is to help contain the pandemic by reaching out to people who may be spreading the coronavirus. You could be called because your test was positive. Or perhaps someone who tested positive named you as someone they’d been in contact with, and now you need to be tested.

Fraudsters follow the news

Scammers read the news, too, and are trying to capitalize on tracing campaigns. They’ve even made calls appear to come from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And yet actual tracers can’t do their work if we won’t pick up the phone.

There’s no centralized testing for the United States, and procedures and names of agencies doing tracing vary by state. You might be contacted by a state or county health department, by phone or text — there’s no single way that a genuine contact tracer will try to reach you. As a result, it can be difficult to know if a contact is legit.

First, simply pause

A call or text informing you that someone has “important health information to share” can be upsetting. And we don’t do our best thinking when we’re afraid, says Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center.

Velasquez advises pausing rather than responding automatically. You don’t have to talk to the caller at that moment.

Take time for due diligence, Velasquez suggests. If a caller says they’re a contact tracer from a county or state health department, take their name then hang up and call the department yourself to verify the information. Velasquez recommends looking up the number online; don’t rely on information provided in the initial contact. If the call seems to come from a legitimate source, you can talk to them when they call back.

Assistant Special Agent in Charge Nenette Day of the HHS Office of Inspector General says extra care is needed any time you receive an unsolicited communication. A healthy skepticism can help you recognize if something is amiss. If you were tested, feel free to ask the contact tracer when and where. They should be able to tell you, Day says.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a legitimate tracing text would simply inform you to expect a call. Don’t click on links in texts: Some scammers send bogus texts with a link that installs malware if you click it.

Know what to expect

A legitimate tracer may ask:

  • For your name and address.
  • For your date of birth — but Day suggests countering with your age, rather than giving out that key piece of identity data.
  • For your whereabouts on certain dates, errands you ran, stores or businesses you visited, etc.
  • Questions about your health and whether you’ve experienced any symptoms.

But a legitimate contact tracer will not:

  • Ask for your Medicare, Medicaid or insurance policy number.
  • Inquire about your immigration status.
  • Ask for your Social Security number.
  • Ask for a financial account number or request payment.
  • Tell you who among your contacts has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Threaten you.

Ask you to fill out an online application to be a contact tracer, too.

Shameka Walker, an attorney with the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, advises hanging up and reporting the call if you have reason to believe it’s not legitimate.

Help loved ones be less susceptible

Day advises being protective of any elderly people in your life, particularly if they may not be discerning about who they give information to. She says she’s especially proud that her 90-year-old mother hasn’t fallen victim to scams. But her mother knows what to watch for — Day says the key is talking about it with those who might be targets.

If someone has dementia or is unlikely to remember what you’ve told them about identifying scammers, you may be able to limit their incoming cell phone calls to known contacts. That helps protect them, without cutting off communication with friends and family.

Other COVID-19 scams to watch for

Sadly, contact tracing scams aren’t the only coronavirus scams around. Day says some of the others have involved offers of:

  • Additional Medicare coverage for a fee.
  • A coronavirus test for use at home.
  • Testing that requires payment in advance of a “contactless” copay on a credit card. Facilities may be elaborate fakes, with masked “medical personnel” using Q-tips to administer bogus tests, or the address given may not exist.
  • Cures or preventive measures that turn out to be worthless.

How to report a scam

If you believe that a contact tracing call is bogus, you should report it to your state attorney general’s office or health department, Day says.

If you realize you mistakenly gave out personal data, here’s who to contact:

Health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid numbers: Call the insurer. Medical identity theft can result in life-threatening mistakes from mixed records if someone else uses your credentials to get medical care.

Social Security number: Report it on You can also freeze your credit, which will help keep your Social Security number from being used to establish new credit.

Credit card number: Alert your card issuer.

If you bought something, like a test or a treatment, you can also report that to the FTC, Walker says.



Take a Staycation


Transform Your Backyard into a Water Park

Start your staycation with a splash-tastic adventure by setting up a 25-foot-long Slip ‘n Slide, which comes with the soft sleds that make the ride more slippery. Then, lay out a bunch of super soaker pump guns and a big bin of self-sealing water balloons for the kiddos. Turn on your hose and watch the fun begin! When it’s time to dry off, grab a four-pack of super absorbent, quick-drying microfiber terry towels. They come in a handy zippered carrying case, plus the package includes an extra mesh bag—no more stinky, wet towels lumped in the grass!

Host a Lawn Games Tournament

Serve up some sporty fun with a carnival-like twist. Set up a few classic outdoor lawn games like a combination bean bag and washer toss, giant Jenga and bocce ball. Pick up some bright spray paint and create a life-size Twister game in your grass for hilarious fun the whole family will enjoy.

Prepare the Perfect Picnic

Lay down a waterproof picnic blanket, fill up an oversized cooler that can hold 95 cans of icy-cold beverages, and have an al fresco lunch, including cold sandwiches, pickles, fresh fruit and chocolate chip cookies. Bonus: The cooler doubles as sturdy extra seating, for when friends pop by. Get a rolling bar cart to hold melamine dishware, cups and silverware, so you can wheel it to wherever your picnic is. Or, if you’re handy, it’s easy to build your own. Speaking of which…

Take on a Family DIY Project

The family that builds together, laughs together! Why not gather all hands on deck to create something everyone can later enjoy, such as a treehouse, a fire pit or a hanging swing? Check out one of the many online tutorials available, pick up the basic supplies at your local big-box store and spend the day getting crafty.

Set the Stage for a Mega Dance Party

As the sun starts to fade, it’s time to jumpstart the outdoor dance party with a waterproof Bluetooth speaker that can withstand outdoor conditions. Hang a set of waterproof solar string lights that can be set to eight different modes of flashing or twinkling to create the perfect mood. Add another layer of entertainment by bringing out the karaoke machine so everyone can belt out their favorite tunes.

Snack on Some Classic Camping Treats

No open fire? No problem! You can make delicious snacks with an electric S’mores Maker, which features a flameless heater, four trays for the graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows, plus two roasting forks. Even the littlest ones can toast their golden treats safely. Set it up on a picnic table, along with cubes of fruit so everyone can enjoy dessert outdoors.

Create Your Own Outdoor Film Festival

Enjoy your own movie theatre on the lawn with a 14-foot inflatable projector screen that’s simple to set up. It comes with popcorn bags ready to be filled with fresh, crunchy snacks. But instead of heading to the microwave, try this outdoor popcorn popper than can be used on your barbecue to make popcorn in minutes. Bonus: The popcorn kit includes corn, oil and seasoning samplers. Snuggle on the grass together on a pile of camping pillows for happy viewing!

Have Sweet Dreams Under the Stars

Now that you’ve tired out the kids, they’re ready for one more adventure before nodding off to sleep: Download the Night Sky app on your GPS-enabled device and point it up to the sky to identify planets, stars and satellites. Then, tuck everyone into a family-sized tent, which features an electrical access port that lets you run a cord to an outside power source if you need it. The kids will doze off comfortably when settled into their lightweight, roomy sleeping bags on top of cushy inflatable air mattresses that feature a built-in pillow. Hang up a couple of collapsible solar-powered lanterns for story time or ghost stories. Give each child their own colorful mini LED flashlight, which features a glow-in-the-dark handle in case of nighttime bathroom visits. If you’re camping out on a very humid night, a tent ceiling fan will keep everyone cool. Bonus: This model even repels mosquitos when you add essential oils on its foam pads.




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