BBB warns of contact tracer scam

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — With all the information about COVID-19, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about contact tracing.

Now, scammers are taking advantage of the pandemic and are trying to steal your identification or money.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare explains how these con artists work their trade.

Contact tracers are usually hired by the department of health and work with a person who has tested positive to get the names and phone numbers of everyone the infected person came into close contact with.

Then the people who had contact with the person infected with COVID-19 may first get a text message telling them they’ll soon get a call from a specific number.

But scammers, pretending to be contact tracers, are taking advantage of how the contact tracing public health process works.

Earlier this year, the Tennessee Department of Health released a video showing contact tracers at work. What they’re doing on the phone is interviewing people who have had contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

“They’re contacting you in an effort to help you, let you know you have been in contact with somebody,” Tony Binkley, President/CEO at Better Business Bureau of Greater East Tennessee, said. “A real contact tracer should identify themselves as who they are, what they are doing and start their conversation that way.”

The BBB however has issued an alert — a warning about a scam involving contact tracing.

“They’re also starting the phone call as saying, we’re contact tracers. You don’t know if it is real or fake. And, when they start asking for personal identification. They’re asking for name, birth date, address. They may go into other things like bank account, credit card information or maybe a  social security number. You should never give that out to anybody,” Binkley said.

“If we got a call that we had been in contact with somebody it would get our attention…” Binkley says, “They are trying to make you think you have been in contact and push a button to talk with somebody, if they get you to do that, then they’ll start asking you for the information.”

 In Nashville, the state Commissioner of Health, Dr. Lisa Piercey said there are about 700 contact tracers in Tennessee.

So, if you get a call, how do you tell a real contact tracer from a scam? Here’s what to know:

  • Contact tracers will identify themselves as calling from the health department.
  • Contact tracing is normally done by phone.
  • Be wary of social media messages or texts where you are asked to click on a link.
  • Contact tracers will ask to confirm your identity … but they will not ask for financial information.

Hang up if these guidelines are not met.

“They’re not going to ask you for any personal identifiable information, like a social security number, a bank account number. They will never tell you who you were in contact with,” Binkley said.

Your first line of defense is to avoid taking the bait, which is a text message claiming someone you came in contact with tested positive for COVID-19 then, you are urged to click on a link for more information — that is your clue to hit delete.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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