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Oregon Attorney General Warns Public Of ‘Imposter’ Contact Tracers

Someone wearing a face mask while using their phone.
Photo by engin akyurt
on Unsplash

Contact tracing is a crucial part of getting a handle on the coronavirus. But Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is warning people to watch out for scammers who are posing as contact tracers.

Contact tracers usually work with local government agencies to call people who may have come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Rosenblum says it’s an important tool to identify other people who may have been infected, but scammers and advertisers are taking advantage of it through text messages and email.

“You should assume if you get a text or an email out of the blue with a link, assume that it is not a legitimate contact tracer and get in touch with your public health authority,” Rosenblum says.

Rosenblum people should always be wary of random text messages or emails that make you click on a link. Real contact tracers wouldn’t begin the conversation with a text message. Instead, they’d likely give someone a personal phone call or a mailed letter. After that, they may give that person the option to participate in text alerts or a mobile app.

Many public health agencies are using mobile apps for contact tracing. While these apps can be a powerful tool, Rosenblum says she’s concerned about potential security gaps here as well. She recently joined California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and several other attorneys general in signing a letter that calls on tech companies to make sure that the mobile apps they sell aren’t being used by advertisers or scammers.

“So we've asked for two things from Google and Apple,” Rosenblum says. “We've asked them to verify that every app that's labeled or marketed as being related to contact tracing be affiliated with a public health authority or a hospital or a university that's working with the public health authority, because that's the only reason that you need to have these apps.”

They’ve asked that Google and Apple delete any apps that aren’t associated with a legitimate health agency, and to delete all coronavirus-related apps after the pandemic subsides.

April Ehrlich is JPR content partner at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.