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Attorney general cautions against COVID-19 contact tracing scams

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    Billings, MT (Billings Gazette) — Contact tracers with local health departments will never ask for payment, a social security number or immigration status, according to a warning from the state’s top prosecutor.

Attorney General Tim Fox reminded Montana residents in an announcement that contact tracers, those tasked with identifying whoever may have come into contact with a COVID-19 patient, will ask for personal information but never a credit card number.

“Unfortunately, there are scammers trying to profit from the confusion and fear surrounding the coronavirus. Don’t give out any financial information, and never pay someone who claims to be a contact tracer,” he said in the announcement posted on the state’s Department of Justice website.

The Federal Trade Commission reported that by June of this year, nearly 100,000 people in the United States had filed complaints to its office related to COVID-19, with total losses to scams amounting to more than $59 million. Reports of fraud make up the bulk of those complaints.

A database maintained by the FTC shows that as of Thursday, 157 Montanans have filed reports of fraud related to epidemic, at an average loss of $250 per person. Many of those reports involve customers who ordered products that never arrived. Just behind reports of fraud, 142 people in the state reported identity theft.

Repeating a similar warning from U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme in May, Fox said contact tracers will never ask for financial information.

“We’ll ask where they’ve been, who they’ve been with and try to pinpoint where they’ve contacted the disease,” said Barbara Schneeman with RiverStone Health, the county’s public health department.

Yellowstone County employs more than 20 contact tracers, and all of them will introduce themselves by name and provide their contact information, Schneeman said.

“If anyone is ever concerned that somebody is not who they say they are, we’ll give them a phone number that they can verify,” she said.

Schneeman said she is not aware of any reports of complaints about anyone calling and claiming to be a contact tracer in order to defraud Yellowstone County residents.

The attorney general also warned Montanans that most contact tracing is done either through text or phone calls. Any links or downloads sent via email should be verified first by the sender.

To report contact tracing scams, or any other COVID-19 related fraud, contact the state’s Office of Consumer Protection online or call 1-800-481-6896.

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