MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Joining us this morning is Jamie Harding with AARP Alabama, I talked to her over Zoom last week. We’re talking contact tracing in the pandemic and how a program designed to keep us safer can open the door for people looking to steal. Let’s start with contact tracing–what is it?

GUEST: Public health departments have used it in the past to track whooping cough and tuberculosis back in the day and it’s a really simple process, once they identify someone has contracted a contagious disease then they ask them for their contacts they have had so they can reach out to those folks and let them know they’ve been exposed and they need to either self-quarantine or monitor their symptoms, so they can get medical treatment if they need it

ANCHOR: It sounds relatively harmless but where can the scams seep into this scenario?

Guest: It’s typical for scammers to take advantage of any crisis, we’ve talked in the past about virus scams, this is just adding another layer on. As we’ve seen the pandemic spread, what happens with the real contract tracer. They’ll identify themselves as being a part of the Alabama Department of Public health and they can text or email you ahead of calling you to talk about the situation. Now a scammer will text or maybe call you. They will ask you for very personal information for instance your social security number, or they’ll tell you, you need to pay for this service even though its paid for by the taxpayers actually so they’ll try to get some personal information out of you. That’s how you know it’s a scam and you should hang up.

Anchor: One of the more pernicious things about this seems to be that you know the health department is going to ask for some sort of identifying metric so they know they’re talking to the right person. How do you know you’re giving the right information to a contact tracer and not too much information to a scammer?

Guest: The scammers are going to want something they can get financial benefits from. They’re going to want credit card numbers they’re going to want your social security number so they could potentially steal your identity, and that’s a hard thing to resolve if that happens to you and a lot of people could have had it happen to them or know someone it has happened to it can take years for that to get resolved. So that’s why you have to guard your personal information. If you have any questions at all about contact tracing or you feel like a scammer has contacted you I recommend reaching out to your public health department in your county and ask them any questions you have on contact tracing. Another thing to be aware of: because the virus is spreading so rapidly right now in Alabama, it’s possible you can be exposed and not get a call from a contact tracer because they’re really scrambling to keep up with this growing pandemic just keep in mind real contact tracers will not ask for personal information–bank account, credit card or any time of payment and they will not ask for SS number as an identifier, they might confirm where you live or your name they won’t ask you for anything personally identifying they really don’t want to know your personal information they’re just trying to keep track of the virus so they can protect public health.