TEWKSBURY — The Federal Trade Commission issued an alert recently to make people aware of contact tracing scams. While no information about this activity has been recorded by the Tewksbury Health Department or the Tewksbury Police Department, is it important for residents to be informed about what is and is not a legitimate contact tracing call.
Contact tracing is a practice that has been used by health departments for many years as a way to determine the community spread of infection. Prior to COVID-19, the Tewksbury Health Department would use contact tracing for cases of tuberculosis and over 90 other reportable infectious diseases, all cataloged in the state’s database.
Public Health Nurse Urvi Argarwalla and Health Department Director Susan Sawyer use the Massachusetts Virtual Epidemiologic Network, or MAVEN system tracking tool to manage surveillance of such cases. However, with the onset of the coronavirus and its rapid expansion into pandemic status, the caseload quickly became too overwhelming for small, local health departments like Tewksbury’s to manage.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognized that an army of contact tracers was going to be necessary in order to try to contain the infection and its spread. The Contact Tracing Collaborative was formed in order to support local health departments; a partnership between the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Partners in Health, a Boston-based international medical charity with over 30 years of global health experience.
By reaching out to the contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 patients, support is offered to ensure that those contacts have the support they need to self-isolate, and to help protect others who have been potentially exposed to the virus. If someone tests positive for COVID-19, trained contact tracers will ask for a list of all of the people that person was within six feet of during the two days before symptoms.
If the person testing positive does not have symptoms, the tracer will ask about the person’s activity during the two days before the positive diagnosis. The tracer will also ask for the phone numbers of anyone who was in close contact so they can be called and cared for.
Unfortunately, fake contact tracers are taking advantage of people and asking for personal information and payment. This is not part of the legitimate contact tracing program. The following is a list of guidelines issued by the FTC.
• Real contact tracers will not ask for money.
• Contact tracing does not require your bank account or credit card number
• Legitimate contact tracers will never ask for your Social Security number
• Your immigration status doesn’t matter for contact tracing, so real tracers won’t ask
• Do not click on a link in a text or email — contact tracers will call you by telephone
Additionally, do not hesitate to contact the Tewksbury Police Department with any suspected contact tracing scam attempts on their regular business line at 978-851-7373 x 0.