New scam targets COVID-19 contact tracing

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Yet another scam has emerged to exploit fears during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the latest fraud taking advantage of the state’s contact tracing process.

In May, Gov. Gavin Newsom launched “California Connected,” a comprehensive tracing and public-awareness campaign in which state health workers make contact with those testing positive for coronavirus, along with others who may have been exposed to them.

The program’s goal is to ensure confidential testing, access to medical care and other services to help curb the virus’ spread.

Now, scammers are getting in on the act, using the tracing process to convince victims to give up their money, personal identifying information or immigration status.

“Many traditional financial crimes and schemes are now orchestrated through electronics. Now, more than ever people of all ages, including the elderly can be victimized by these criminals,” the California Office of Emergency Services warned in a news release last week.

So far, Winters Police Department hasn’t received any similar scam reports at the local level. WPD Community Services Officer Gail Jimenez said when it comes to spotting a scam, always double check.

Jimenez said they suggest following the Cal OES recommendations before sharing any personal information or making a monetary transaction.

“In the case of COVID contact tracing you can verify a person is who they say through the health department,” Jimenez said.

Here’s how to spot a contact tracing scammer, according to Cal OES:

* Real contact tracers won’t ask you for money. Only scammers insist on payment by gift card, money transfer or cryptocurrency.

* Contact tracing doesn’t require your bank account or credit-card number, so don’t share account information with anybody who contacts you asking for it.

* Legitimate contact tracers will never ask for your Social Security number. Never give any part of your Social Security number to anyone who contacts you.

* Your immigration status doesn’t matter for contact tracing, so real tracers won’t ask. If they do, you can bet it’s a scam.

Cal OES also advises the public to be wary of suspicious emails, phone calls and text messages, and avoid clicking on a link or attachments in a text or email, as they can download malware onto a device.

When in doubt, contact your local health department to verify that a call or messages are valid.

Jimenez noted if a person believes they are the victim of a scam in Winters they can contact the Winters police non-emergency 24 hour dispatch line at 530-795-4561.

*Express Editor-in-Chief, Crystal Apilado contributed to this article.

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