The incoming call is supposedly from the local health department. The caller sounds professional, though worried. The news is bad: You've spent time with someone who is now sick with COVID-19. Relax, the caller says, and just answer a few questions.
Answering those questions may be your civic duty, or a huge mistake. Consumer advocates say the caller either could be legitimate — or a scammer trying to steal your money or identity.
"The pandemic is a dream come true for scammers,” says Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau that serves Chicago and Northern Illinois. “They tell you you might be infected. You've read all about it and you're scared. That's when your defense wall comes down. After all, you (think) it's the health department because of the caller ID."
Rigging a phone call to make it look as if the call is coming from another number is easy, Bernas warns. “You can buy an app online that can spoof the Internal Revenue Service, a health department or any other number."
Criminals call, email and text
Be careful: Such fraudulent communications may be in a robocall, personal call, text message or an email. Consider Jake M., a young Texan who got a robocall saying he could be part of “contact and tracing efforts.” He reported his brush with fraud to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Jake (whose full name is being withheld) was told he had come in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. When he was asked to verify some personal information, “I ended the call,” Jake told the BBB.
Smart move: Hanging up
That was smart, Bernas says. If you have any doubt about the legitimacy of such calls, hang up and call your local or state health department.