Have you received a phone call, text message, email or even a visitor at your door informing you that someone you may have been in contact with was exposed to the novel coronavirus? That’s got to be an alarming message to receive no matter how careful you’ve been in your dealings with the public. And after hearing something like that, you’ll likely want to find out as much information as possible and cooperate with the health officials attempting to track down where the infection is cropping up.

But what if the person contacting you isn’t actually working with the government as a contact tracer? What if it’s just a way to scam you and steal your identity information? You might be wondering if anyone could really pull off such a thing. But wonder no more, because it’s already happening. People have been posing as official contact tracers and asking for a lot more information than you’re supposed to be giving. (CBS Los Angeles)

Authorities are warning the public of scammers posing as coronavirus contact tracers.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office says criminals are pretending to be gathering information about COVID-19 cases, but are asking for Social Security numbers, money, financial information and immigration status – information that is not needed for contact tracing.

Victims have been contacted via phone, text messages and emails.

I suppose this should have been obvious from the moment the entire contact tracing strategy was put on the table. Identity thieves and scammers are always with us and there is no tragedy or vulnerability they won’t stoop to taking advantage of. This is evident from the way so many of them regularly prey on the elderly who are often less conversant in the ways of the internet or more trusting when someone calls or knocks at their door.

During the pandemic, however, one doesn’t need to fall into a category like that to be vulnerable. People of all ages are frightened and/or going stir crazy from being locked down for excessive periods of time. The virus dominates the news most days and discussions about it frequently seem inescapable. So when someone doing a passable impression of a person “helping” the community deal with the threats that COVID-19 poses contacts you, it’s understandable that many would immediately drop into a mindset of wishing to cooperate.

But it’s yet another good reminder of the same rules we’re always supposed to follow when being contacted by a supposedly “trustworthy” source out of the blue. You don’t give people your banking information, social security number, credit card codes or anything else unless you can definitely confirm that they are who they claim to be. Most banking services or government agencies will never ask you for that information over the phone or by email. But once the scammers have it, you’ll find out about it the hard way, and quickly.

I’m not sure if these incidents represent some sort of blanket condemnation of the entire idea of contact tracing, however. I’ve had plenty of concerns about this activity myself, such as how and where the government is storing all of this personal data and how secure it is. But that’s only because it’s such a new system and one that was thrown together in haste. The fact is that scammers have attempted to abuse nearly every government program you can name. People call up out of the blue claiming to represent the Social Security office, Medicare or Medicaid, or the IRS. (That last one can be particularly scary.) So as I already said, this result was probably inevitable. The real question is what we’re going to do to beef up the security of the contact tracing system. Eliminating it would likely cost us a lot of useful data in dealing with the pandemic and the scammers would simply go back to their previous tactics.