With the onset of the coronavirus era, we’ve had to learn and understand a confusing myriad of new phrases and terms. There are PPPs (Paycheck Protection Program) vs. PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment). There is the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) vs. the NIH (National Institutes for Health) vs. WHO (World Health Organization). We’ve become familiar with pandemics, social distancing, flattening the curve, herd immunity and testing for antibodies.
Recently, the term “contact tracing” has found its way into our conversation about COVID-19. In an April 22 Time Magazine article, the term has been described as being “a little like detective work: trained staff interview people who have been diagnosed with a contagious disease to figure out who they may have recently been in contact with. They then go tell those people they may have been exposed.” Contact tracing is not a new term. It was most recently used during the recent Ebola and SARS outbreaks.
For COVID-19 purposes, the contact tracing process begins once someone is confirmed to have tested positive with the virus. Contact tracers then try to track down people who have recently had prolonged exposure to the person infected, then make them aware of the situation and supply them with information on symptoms and precautions.
Among the biggest problems of conducting contact tracing is that it is a very labor-intensive process, especially in a pandemic situation. Using the Time Magazine analogy of contact tracing being like detective work, you can see there are literally thousands of “leads” and “suspects” to follow up on.
At this time, there is no national program for contact tracing. The process falls to state and local health departments and organizations. Interviewing and reaching out to infected patients and those who had contact with them takes time. This “detective work” can quickly overwhelm departments not equipped with sufficient staff and procedures.
As with any other large-scale disaster or crisis, scammers are quick to take advantage of a bad situation. They are preying on a very cooperative, apprehensive public, using bogus emails and texts claiming to be from COVID-19 contact tracers. Many ask for all sorts of personal information, such as Social Security numbers, financial info, and bank or credit card numbers. The emails and texts often include a link to click.
Don’t fall into the trap. Clicking the link downloads software onto your computer or device which gives scammers access to your personal and financial information. It is very important you just ignore and delete these scam messages.
Additionally, you can protect yourself, your information, and your devices by following these guidelines:
• Use multi-factor authentication to protect your online accounts. This process requires two or more pieces of information to log into your account, making it harder for scammers if they somehow obtain your username and password.
• Examine your phone for a settings option which filters and blocks messages from spam or unknown senders.
• Check with your wireless provider about tools and services that let you block unwanted text messages. There are some call-blocking apps that enable you to block unwanted text or calls
• Make sure your computer’s or devices’ operating systems have been updated. Enabling automatic updates for your apps is also important.
• Back up your devices regularly, so you will not lose valuable information should the device get malware or any virus (no pun intended).
It’s important to keep in mind that, while public health officials may send informational text messages regarding contact tracing, they won’t include a link or ask for other sensitive personal data like Social Security numbers, banking info or credit card info.
Be careful, and be safe!
Happy Memorial Day!
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.