States nationwide facing the risks of the coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic are attempting various approaches to fight the disease, such as through social distancing, use of facemasks, increased disinfection of surfaces, and contact tracing. Unfortunately, contact tracing appears to be an effective way not only to fight COVID-19, but also for scammers to steal personal information from a weary public—the Federal Trade Commission warns.
Contact tracing involves methods of identifying individuals who may have contracted a disease and others who they may have encountered; all those effected are asked to either self-isolate or quarantine to break up the potential transmission to others. Health department COVID-19 contact tracers will typically interview those effected requesting an individual’s name, address, health information, and the names of places recently visited or other persons with whom they came in contact. Scammers, however, are asking for this information and more. The FTC advises the public:
Don’t Pay Contact Tracers: Contact tracers working with health departments will not ask you to submit payment for their public service.
Don’t Share Social Security Numbers or Other Financial Information: Contact tracers will not ask for your social security number, bank account, or other financial numbers. A legitimate contact tracer does not need this type of sensitive personal information.
Don’t Share Immigration Status: COVID-19 indiscriminately targets all individuals, no matter their immigration status. Legitimate contact tracers do not need, and will not ask for, this type of personal information.
Don’t Click on Links or Download Anything from Unknown Tracers: Legitimate contact tracers will not send individuals text messages or emails with links to download additional files. If you do not recognize the individual or organization, do not click on unknown links.
For individuals suspicious of a recent communication from an alleged contact tracer, double-check with your state health department to determine whether the communication is legitimate.
As regulators and the public become increasingly aware of the growing use and privacy implications of contact tracing, developers benefit from implementing best practices, as discussed here.
Troutman Sanders will continue to monitor new developments in the world of privacy and cybersecurity. To read the FTC’s full announcement, click here.