Fraudsters pretend to be contact tracers working for public health departments to steal private information, the Federal Trade Commission warned Tuesday.
The emergence of contact tricks raises questions about whether the public will trust contact tracers when they call or text unexpectedly, as practice becomes a key part of the U.S. strategy to stop transmission of Covid-19.
“Public engagement with contact tracers must be widely accepted in order to protect friends, family and community members from potential future infections,” according to CDC guidelines on contact tracing.
Contact tracing is when public health services call people who have tested positive for an infectious disease and find out where they have been, so that they can alert other people who have been in close contact with them to be tested or isolated. 11,000 contact tracers across the United States call high-risk individuals for Covid-19, NPR estimated in Apriland states have announced plans to hire tens of thousands more.
“There is no doubt that contact tracing plays a vital role in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19”, writes Colleen Tressler of the FTC. “But the scammers, posing as contact tracers and taking advantage of the process, also send SMS.”
Although public health officials can send an informative text message before a phone call, they will not include a link, the FTC said. The FTC warns that links included in fraudulent text messages can download malware to your phone, potentially allowing fraudsters to steal personal information. It also says that public health workers will not ask for information such as social security or bank account numbers.
The FTC recommends filtering out unwanted text messages, enabling two-factor authentication, and updating the phone software to the latest version. But for the most part, people need to be careful to ignore and delete the fraudulent messages.
The emergence of contact tracing scams could also complicate the anonymous digital contact tracing technology supported by Apple and Google, which companies call “exposure notification”.
Applications created with the Apple-Google system are not yet widely deployed in the United States or Europe. But when the system officially launches later this month, the apps will send notifications to people with messages like “Someone you were around has tested positive for Covid-19. Tap for more information. ” The Apple-Google Bluetooth system requires a large percentage of people to register, and businesses have said that trust is essential to the system’s operation.