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Amid Growing Contact Tracer Scam’s, Baltimore’s Older Adults are at Risk

Follow these tips to avoid being a victim

Financial fraud and exploitation involving older adults is a growing problem that costs America’s older adults more than $5 billion annually. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, scammers are trying to take advantage of people by using misinformation and scare tactics.

Part of our work at SAFE: Stop Abuse of Elders, a program of CHANA, is to identify and intervene in situations where older adults are victims of financial exploitation. We’ve recently been made aware of a new scam, happening here in our community, which targets older adults and other unsuspecting individuals. Scammers posing as COVID-19 contact tracers have been calling individuals in the Baltimore Community, attempting to collect sensitive information and credit card account numbers.

The following is an example of the type of exchange that was recently reported:

Scammer: Good morning, according to our system, you are likely to have been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This means that you now need to self-isolate for 7 days and take a COVID-19 test.

Victim: OK. Can you tell me who that person was?’

Scammer: I’m not able to tell you that. That is confidential information.

Victim: Right. Um… so ….

Scammer: You do need to be tested within the next 72 hours. So can I just get the best mailing address so that we can send a kit to you?’

Victim: Ok (gives address)

Scammer: Thank you – and I just need to take a payment card so that we can finalize this and send the kit to you.

Victim: Sorry – a payment card? I thought this was all free?

Scammer: No – I’m afraid not. There is a one-off fee of $50 for the kit and test results. Could you read off the long card number for me, please, when you’re ready.

Victim: No – that’s not right.

Scammer: I’m afraid it is. Can you give me the card number please – this is very important, and there are penalties for not complying.

Victim: Puts the phone down.

As state health departments across the country implement a flurry of new programs and services in response to the pandemic, many of us are still largely unaware of what an “official” contact-tracing notice would look like. Combined with the fact that messages might differ across regions, health departments, etc., this leaves our older adult populations vulnerable to scammers.

Even so, there are still some basic hallmarks you can use to spot a scam. For example, real health department contact tracers will never ask you for your Social Security number, credit card number, or other financial information. They will not ask you to send money or participate in a financial transaction.

The majority of scams seek to put the victim into a state of confusion by introducing a challenge which compels him/her to make decisions and act quickly. They may even threaten the victim with consequences for not complying, as seen in the example above. As a general rule of thumb, never give out personal information such as account numbers, social security numbers, mother’s maiden name, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls. Trust your instincts. Before giving out your card number or money, if you are at all suspicious, ask a friend or family member or reach out to the advocates at SAFE: Stop Abuse of Elders at (410) 843-7571.

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