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State, Federal authorities report new COVID scam

According to state and federal authorities, there is a new phone scam circulating where the callers are posing as COVID-19 contact tracers and try to get credit card or bank account information from people.

Those who are tested for COVID-19 and receive a positive test result will be contacted by a Chautauqua County public health nurse. If during the investigation of the positive case, someone is named a close contact, a state contact tracer will contact them. Contact tracing is an effective public health intervention, and it is crucial to stopping the spread of COVID-19.

The nurse and the contact tracer will identify themselves, say where they work and how they can be reached if there are questions during the quarantine/isolation period. They will ask for identifying information (name, address, date of birth), because they don’t want to discuss personal health information with anyone but the person they need to speak with. They will not ask for money or financial information; the service they provide is free. They will not ask for immigration status; it doesn’t matter for contact tracing.

There are scammers trying to take advantage of contact tracing. A scammer might call, text, or email and say they are affiliated with the local health department and are contacting people to tell them they have been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Where the scammer’s conversation differs from the legitimate contact tracing discussion is when financial or payment information is requested. A public health nurse or state contact tracer should never ask for payment or financial information.

Scammers might also try to sell products to treat or prevent COVID-19 without proof that they work. At this time, there is no FDA-approved prevention, home test kit or treatment. When there is a medical breakthrough, such news will spread through a reliable source, not from an ad or sales pitch. Washing hands, wearing a face covering in public, maintaining 6 feet of physical distance from people outside the home and contact tracing are strategies that will slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Anytime you receive a call, text, or email asking you for personal or financial information, be concerned about who is calling — don’t provide your social security number; don’t provide financial information, and be cautious of texts or emails asking you to click on a link,” said Christine Schuyler, Chautauqua County public health director. “Public health nurses and contact tracers will not ask for that information.”

Those who think they have been contacted by a scammer can report the attempt to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.

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