Building a Digital Defense Against COVID-19 Contact Tracing Scams

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Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: building a digital defense against COVID-19 contact tracing scams.

You have probably heard the term “contact tracing” quite a bit as of late. Contact tracing is the way in which health officials track who may be at risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus. If someone tests positive for the virus, health officials will work with the infected person to get names and phone numbers for those with whom they have had recent contact. The goal is to slow the spread of the virus by identifying those who may have been exposed. Once identified, health officials can provide these people with information on how to keep themselves and their communities safe. They can also give guidance about the possible need for quarantining and monitoring of symptoms.  

Of course, there are always bad actors out there who want to take advantage of an already difficult situation.  

In Oregon, contact tracers are usually hired by the state or a county health department — but they can also come from community-based organizations in some areas. The contact tracer will call you or send you a letter… not a text message or email. If you receive a text or email that claims to come from a contact tracer – be careful. Do not click on links as that can download malware onto your device, allowing the cybercriminal to steal your personal info. 

In some cases, the bad guys don’t even have to steal the information – they just ask for it. That’s why it is important for you to be able to recognize the difference between information requests you will get from legitimate tracers and the criminals.  

Legitimate contact tracers may ask you for your name, birth date, address, contact information, occupation, and whether you have symptoms. They may also ask demographic questions such as your race, ethnicity, language preference, and whether you have any disabilities. All of that is OK, and the information you provide will be protected as a private medical record and won’t be shared with other agencies. 

However, if you have someone asking for your Social Security number, bank account information, credit card number, or immigration status, hang up. That person is not a legitimate contact tracer. 

For more information on contact tracing in Oregon or if you have concerns about the legitimacy of someone who reaches out to you, visit www.healthoregon.org/contacttracing.  

If you have fallen victim to a COVID-19 scam or any other online fraud, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov) at www.ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.

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