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Contact tracing scam asks people to pay $50 for COVID-19 tests

Contact tracing has begun in Washington state. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

A new type of scam calls centered on COVID-19 — which have warranted investigation by the FBI — are showing up in Pacific County.

Pacific County Emergency Management Director Scott McDougall says the county has received several reports of calls from fake contact tracers.

The caller tells the person that someone they were with tested positive for COVID-19, and they must now get a $50 test done by mail. If the victim asks who the infected contact is, they are told that information is confidential. Then the victim is asked for their address and credit card information to pay for the test.

As contact tracing calls are a very real and very serious type of call being made right now, people may feel they have to comply with the demands of the scam calls.

Voluntary contact tracing efforts expand in Washington state

“They do mirror information that might be found in a contact tracing call,” McDougall said.

However, he noted, there are some notable differences to watch out for. For one, a real contact tracing call will come from a government health agency, such as the Washington State Department of Health or a local health district.

“It’s really important that people determine exactly who they’re talking to,” McDougall said. “Get a name of the person who is calling them, have the person identify who they work for.”

A contact tracing call does not always necessarily come from your immediate area — if you have been traveling recently, then you could get a contact tracing call from the county or state you traveled to. It will still, however, come from a government agency or group.

“There’s always going to be an official entity involved,” McDougall said.

Another red flag is a price tag on a test — COVID-19 testing is free in Washington.

“Contact tracers are never going to ask for money,” McDougall said. “And you’re not going to be told that you’re required to get a test.”

He said the government does not make contacts of an infected person get a test, but rather encourages them and helps them to find testing locations.

Finally, if you get an apparent contact tracing call and feel uneasy, nothing says you have to stay on the line.

“If there is something about the call that just doesn’t feel right, be ready to hang up and contact the entity that they say they’re calling from,” McDougall said.

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