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Contact tracing text could be a scam, feds warn

Posted at 11:52 AM, May 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-20 20:04:28-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Department of Health has urged people to answer their phones or call them back immediately if they receive an inquiry about COVID-19 and contact tracing.

It’s the process of identifying people who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and instructing them to quarantine and monitor their symptoms daily.

The state works with infected people to get the names and phone numbers for everyone that came in close contact with while the possibly infectious.

However, Call 6 Investigates has learned scammers are trying to take advantage of this system.

The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning this week about contacting tracing spam texts.

The tracer who calls will not ask for personal information, like a Social Security number, according to the FTC.

People who’ve had contact with someone infected with COVID-19 may first get a text message from the health department, telling them they’ll get a call from a specific number.

At the end of the call, some states ask if the contact would like to enroll in a text message program, which sends daily health and safety reminders until the 14-day quarantine ends.

“But tracers won’t ask you for money or information like your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number,” according to the FTC. “Anyone who does is a scammer.”

Check out the image below. Unlike a legitimate text message from a health department, which only wants to let you know they’ll be calling, this message includes a link to click.

This is what a message from the Indiana State Department of Health would look like:

The FTC says there are several ways you can filter unwanted text messages or stop them before they reach you.

  • Your phone may have an option to filter and block messages from unknown senders or spam.
  • Your wireless provider may have a tool or service that lets you block texts messages.
  • Some call-blocking apps also let you block unwanted text messages.

Here are other tips from the FTC you can take to protect yourself from text scammers.

  • Protect your online accounts by using multi-factor authentication. It requires two or more credentials to log in to your account, which makes it harder for scammers to log in to your accounts if they do get your username and password.
  • Enable auto updates for the operating systems on your electronic devices. Make sure your apps also auto-update so you get the latest security patches that can protect from malware.
  • Back up the data on your devices regularly, so you won’t lose valuable information if a device gets malware or ransom ware.

Nearly 2,800 cases have been entered into the system for contact tracing, Dr. Kris Box, state health commissioner, said during Wednesday's press conference. About 6,000 outbound contact tracing calls have been placed by the state.

“We’ve received some reports of people claiming to be from the Indiana State Department of Health and asking inappropriate questions" Box said. "I want to assure you that Indiana contact tracers are only asking for information related to COVID-19 symptoms and the people you’ve been in contact with. Your text message will say 'This is a message from the Indiana State Department to Health' and will provide the number to call. So if you get a call from someone claiming to be from ISDH who asks other questions, please let us know. And please respond if you do get a text or a call.”

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