August 3, 2020 2:08 PM
by Andrea Cavanaugh
Nita is a Santa Monica resident who received an unsettling phone call last week – the caller said that someone diagnosed with COVID-19 had identified her as someone the person had close contact with before receiving the positive test result.
Nita knew about contact tracing, but was suspicious of the call immediately, because as an older person with an underlying health condition, she was taking precautions against the novel coronavirus and had not had close contact with anyone for months. She became even more skeptical of the call when she was asked for her Social Security number. Nita promptly hung up.
She was smart to end the call. Although the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is doing contact tracing to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, they will never ask you for Social Security numbers, financial information, payment, or anything about your immigration status.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), contact tracing is used by health departments to prevent the spread of infectious disease, and involves identifying people who have an infectious disease (cases) and the people who may have been exposed (contacts) and working with them to interrupt disease transmission. For COVID-19, this includes asking cases to isolate and contacts to quarantine at home voluntarily.
Legitimate contact tracers will reach out to individuals who test positive for COVID-19, and their recent contacts. They will ask for your name and date of birth, and information about anyone with whom you have been in close contact.
If you receive a call, text, or email from someone who identifies themselves as a contact tracer, keep these points in mind:
- Never give callers your Social Security number, bank-account number, immigration status, or other similar personal financial information, or make any kind of payment to anyone representing themselves as a contact tracer.
- Beware of suspicious links and attachments in emails or texts.
- Remember that scammers can spoof phone numbers and email addresses to make it look like they are legitimate.
- Do not click on links in ads or social media posts about contact tracing.
- DO respond to legitimate contact tracers to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
If you hear from someone who identifies themselves as a contact tracer, and you are not sure it’s legitimate, you can contact the Los Angeles County Public Health Department at (833) 540-0473 to check the caller’s credentials.
Contact tracing is a key factor in fighting the novel coronavirus, so it’s important to talk with public health workers and answer their questions. The information you provide is confidential and will only be used for health purposes. With vigilance you can avoid being scammed. You can find out more about many types of COVID-19-related fraud here: http://ph.lacounty.gov/hccp/covidscams/.
Consumer Affairs Specialist