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FOX43 Finds Out: Watch how easy it is to fall for a contact tracing scam

A FOX43 Finds Out experiment catches people off guard and shows you just how easy it is to fall for a COVID-19 contact tracing scam.

YORK, Pa. — Public health experts say contact tracing is key to mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

The purpose is to let someone know if they've been exposed to the virus. 

Unfortunately, scammers are now pretending to be contact tracers to get your information.

Now they're even posing as Department of Health employees, calling you to say you've been exposed to COVID-19. 

It's not a call anyone wants to get right now, so you might be more willing to give that person your information and that's exactly what the bad guys want.

FOX43 Finds out set up an experiment to show you just how easy it is to fall for a contact tracing scam.

Jackie De Tore and Ed Albert, an executive producer at FOX43, asked our FOX43 co-workers to give us some names and numbers of their friends and family who we could call pretending to be contact tracers for our FOX43 Finds Out Experiment.

It wasn't hard. 

There is a script on the CDC website as a kind of guideline for actual contact tracers.

So Ed and I used that, just like a scammer could.

"As part of an investigation into a confirmed case of COVID-19, we are following up with individuals who may have had contact with a case while they were possibly contagious. We are calling to check on you and discuss some Public Health recommendations with you. Can you confirm your name and address for me?"

And everyone we spoke with gave us their name and address.

Then, we would ask for their date of birth.

Again, everyone gave that to us too.

We would then pretend their information didn't match up what was in our system and would ask for their social security number. 

That's when some people said "no way."

Although a couple of people were ready to hand over all of their personal information. No questions asked.

We would stop them before they actually gave us their social and reassured them they were not actually exposed to COVID-19.

People who did try to give us their social security number say the call sounded real and with the fear of COVID-19 looming, they wanted to give as much information as possible to find out if they were really exposed to the virus.

Others though, thought it was a bit fishy that we were asking for personal information barely a minute into the call.

Kathy Herman said, "I was going to ask you where I came in contact because you didn't seem like you wanted to say anything about that and I wanted to know!"

Katrina Anderson started asking us questions, "I personally usually ask for a call back number that I can take time to research."

And that is a great tip, ask questions!

Get a call back number, hang up, research, and then call back to confirm.

At this point, the FTC has posted several warnings about these types of contact tracing scams.

The big takeaway here is that a real contact tracer will never ask for your social security number or any financial information.

Don't let the fear of COVID-19 make you surrender all of your personal details.

Here's what the PA Department of Health had to say about contact tracing scams:

Within 24 hours of receiving the positive result, trained public health staff conduct an interview with the newly confirmed COVID-19 case to obtain a list of close contacts they had while infectious.

Cases are considered to be infectious beginning two days before onset of symptoms or two days before the date of the positive result if the person did not have symptoms. The cases are encouraged to utilize calendars, social media, etc. to remember where and who they were around during their infectious period.

Then contact tracers, both trained staff and volunteers, reach out to those contacts to educate, inform and support those who had a known close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual through phone calls, texts, emails and mailings. Contact tracers will not say who exposed them to keep their information confidential.

A contact tracer may also ask:

• For verification of your date of birth, address, and any other phone numbers you may have; and

• If you have already tested positive for COVID-19 they may also ask for the date and location of where you were tested.

A contact tracer will NEVER ask you for:

• Your social security number, financial or bank account information, or personal details unrelated to your potential exposure to someone with COVID-19;

• Photographs or videos of any kind;

• Passwords; or

• Money or payment.

If someone is unsure if the caller is legitimate and would like to verify if the caller does in fact work in contact tracing, they can call the PA Department of Health at 1-877-PA HEALTH to verify.

If you have a story you want Jackie to look into, FOX43 wants to find out. Send her a message on Facebook or send an email to FOX43FindsOut@FOX43.com.