By BECKY RUTHERFORD
We are four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and we continue to see a ton of COVID-19 cyber scam activity.
The latest in COVID-19 threats are various scams exploiting COVID-19 contact tracing.
What is contact tracing?
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), contact tracing is used by health departments to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, like COVID-19.
Contact Tracing involves identifying people who have an infectious disease (cases) and their contacts (people who may have been exposed).
Legitimate contact tracing can involve:
- Interviewing people with COVID-19 to identify everyone they had close contact with when they were infectious;
- Notifying contacts of potential exposure;
- Referring contacts for testing;
- Monitoring contacts for signs of COVID-19; and
- Connecting contacts with services they might need during the self-quarantine period.
Unfortunately, cyber-criminals have zeroed in on this as a way to steal sensitive information from people. According to a press release from the DOJ (Department of Justice) on June 30, contact tracing themed scams are on the rise. Fraudsters are trying to steal both money and personal information with these scams.
In some cases, scammers may offer fake contact tracing jobs, and try to collect Social Security numbers and up-front fees. If you are contacted about a contact tracing job, and it seems too good to be true, it probably is. You can go directly the NMDOH’s (New Mexico Department of Health) website to check out current contact tracing job opportunities here: https://www.nmhealth.org/about/asd/hr/jobs/ The NMDOH will not send you unsolicited messages about a job offer, whether via phone call, text, or email. If you get any unsolicited messages about a job that you haven’t applied for, it’s a scam.
Even if it is a job you have applied for, always use caution and verify who you are communicating with before sending any sensitive information. If you get any suspicious messages, ignore them, and delete them. You can also report them to the NMDOH, or local crime enforcement.
In other cases, you might receive a call, text, or email pretending to be from a contact tracer and trying to steal your information. Their goal is to steal Social Security numbers or other sensitive information from you. They might send a malicious link, which could download malware onto your device or steal your information. Real contact tracers will never ask for a Social Security number, bank account number, or credit card number, or any payment. Ignore these messages and delete them.
Remember, contact tracing is an integral part of fighting the spread of COVID-19, don’t be afraid of legitimate contact tracers. They will ask a lot of questions, but they will not ask for personal information like your Social Security number or financial information.
If you receive a call, text or email and you aren’t sure about it; reach out to the NMDOH at their COVID-19 hotline: 1.855.600.3453.
Editor’s note: Becky Rutherford works in information technology at Los Alamos National Laboratory.