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State health department warns of COVID-19 contact tracing scams

Ron Musselman
York Dispatch
The state Department of Health is warning Pennsylvania residents to be alert for COVID-19 contact tracing scams.

The state Department of Health is warning Pennsylvania residents to be alert for COVID-19 contact tracing scams.

More complaints have been popping up recently across the state, but health officials did not provide a number.

“When speaking of scams, some individuals have brought concerns to our attention,” spokesperson Maggi Mumma said in an email Thursday. “The Department of Health needed to alert all fellow Pennsylvanians as soon as we learned of this and especially before this became more widespread.”

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As of Thursday morning, no such incidents had surfaced in York County.

“We have not received any complaints regarding a potential contact tracing scam,” said Kyle KIng, a spokesperson for the York County District Attorney’s Office.

Pennsylvania announced plans earlier this month to hire 1,000 additional contact tracers in an effort to help curb the spread of COVID-19. The new contact tracers will join an existing staff of more than 650 currently working throughout the state.

Contact tracing involves identifying people who have come into contact with another person who has tested positive for COVID-19, so they can quarantine and monitor themselves for symptoms.

Scammers have been attempting to take advantage of how the contact tracing process works while trying to get personal information from victims through phone calls or electronic messages, according to health officials.

“The department will continue to advocate to answer the call when someone is calling you,” Mumma said. “Contact tracers are working around the clock to ensure close contacts are notified of their exposure.

“We also want to educate those individuals on what they should expect to avoid any confusion or potential harm.”

King said the DA’s office issues warnings regarding potential scams in York County once they are made aware of them.

“Those warnings would typically include relevant information as well as tips on how to avoid becoming a victim,” he said.

Older adults are more susceptible to the contact tracing scam, health officials said. 

A legitimate contact tracer may ask for:

  • Verification of your date of birth, address and additional phone numbers;
  • If you have already tested positive for COVID-19, they also may ask for the date and location of where you were tested.

A contact tracer will never ask for:

  • Your Social Security number, financial or bank account information, or personal details unrelated to COVID-19;
  • Photographs or videos;
  • Passwords, money or payment.

“For any and all scams, we suggest reporting the information given to them to keep this from happening again,” Mumma said.

She said Pennsylvania residents should report scams to their local law enforcement agency or file a consumer complaint to the Office of the Attorney General online, by calling 800-441-2555 or by email at scams@attorneygeneral.gov.

To verify whether a person works as a contact tracer, call the state Department of Health at 1-877-PA HEALTH (724-3258). 

— Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @ronmusselman8.