You’ve heard of phone scams and credit card scams, but now there’s a new type of fraud in California: coronavirus contact tracing scams.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra this week warned residents to be aware of scam artists pretending to be contact tracers.

Real contact tracers play a vital role in the effort to fight the spread of the virus, helping public health departments locate people who may have had contact with someone infected with COVID-19 so they can quarantine themselves or take other precautions.

But now scam artists pretending to be contact tracers are tricking people into giving up private information such as Social Security numbers or sensitive financial data.

“Legitimate contact tracers will never ask for personal information such as your Social Security number or financial information,” Becerra said in a statement. “It sickens the soul that there are people out there who make it their business to scam you as most of us seek to band together to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.”

The scammers are reaching people by phone, text and email. The trickery comes as counties across the Golden State scramble to hire thousands of actual contact tracers. The contact tracers are a key part of the state’s plan to reopen and relax shelter-in-place orders, since their work involves identifying specific individuals who may be impacted by the disease in lieu of widespread shutdowns.

Scams aside, some counties, including Santa Clara, which is aiming for at least 1,000 contact tracers by July, have struggled to hire enough people for the job.

“It’s turned out to be a lot harder than I expected,” Santa Clara County CEO Jeff Smith said recently.

According to the state’s Department of Justice, legitimate tracers will only ask about medical symptoms and people you’ve been in contact with, not Social Security numbers, financial information or even health insurance information. And they will never charge for their work.

The department is encouraging residents who think they’ve been targeted or victimized by phony contact tracers to file a complaint.

“I ask all Californians to be alert and protect your personal information,” Becerra said. “And if you see something, say something. We are working to track these impostors.”


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