How to Tell the Difference Between a Real Contact Tracer and a Scammer

Posted on 08/24/20

The phone call or text message seems legitimate… and scary.

It’s the state Health Department. You’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, the caller says, and we need some personal information.

But, wait a minute. How do you know if it’s a real contact tracer trying to stop the spread of coronavirus or a scammer using a ruse to steal your identity?

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is a dream come true for scammers. A highly contagious virus with no cure is scary and fear can throw you off your game and keep you from thinking logically.

Checking caller ID won’t help. Those numbers can be spoofed and just because it says the call is from the Health Department doesn’t mean it’s true.

Eleanor Low, an epidemiologist specialist with the Hawai`i Department of Health, says real contact tracers will only ask to verify your address, phone number and date of birth, along with information on who lives in your household and who you have been in extended contact with.

They will never ask for your Social Security number, medical insurance information or for bank or credit card information and will never ask for money to pay for “services.”

The best advice might be to hang up and verify the call is from the Health Department. Call the Disease Outbreak Control Division at 586-4586. If it’s after hours, leave a message and a duty officer will get back to you. The phone number and information about contact tracing is also on the division’s website (https://health.hawaii.gov/docd) and Facebook page (@HI.DOCD).

Also beware of any text messages and emails about COVID-19. Don’t click on any links.

Low said Hawai`i’s contact tracers use the phone and do not text, email or visit in person unless you request them to.

Besides fake contact tracers, there are a number of other coronavirus related scams circulating around the country. Beware of calls, texts and emails promising COVID-19 testing or cures.

Sometimes con artists will try to get Medicare or other insurance information to false-bill the government or private insurance companies. Another recent scam involved stolen identity data that was used to file false pandemic unemployment claims.

If you feel your identity has been compromised by a scam, consider freezing your credit so that scammers cannot use your personal information to open credit cards in your name without you being notified.

Suspected fraud can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT or the FBI at 202-324-3000. A complete list of federal agencies that investigate fraud is available at https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/report-fraud. You can also call the AARP Fraud Watch Network helpline at 877-908-3360 to speak to a trained volunteer and sign up for weekly Watchdog Alerts, or go online to aarp.org/Fraud.

Fraudsters have no qualms about hijacking efforts to help people during the pandemic as a way to steal. If you get a call from a real contact tracer, you should answer questions and quarantine if needed. But be skeptical at first and verify the call is real.

This story first appeared in The Hawai`i Herald.

This story is provided by AARP Hawaii. Visit the AARP Hawaii page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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You can find CDC’s latest coronavirus information at cdc.gov/coronavirus; AARP information and resources are at aarp.org/coronavirus. En español, visite aarp.org/elcoronavirus.