Some Floridians worry contact tracing calls are scams. State urges you to respond

Elysee Bernstein received a call July 10 from someone claiming to work for the Florida Department of Health, telling her she had tested positive for COVID-19.

She was confused since she had already received a negative result online from the Lincoln Park testing center she visited in Fort Lauderdale. The caller asked Bernstein to provide her Social Security number, address, name and phone number. She feared it was a scam and immediately hung up.

“Once they started asking for all my information I instantly knew,” Bernstein said. “But if I hadn’t gotten my results [already], I probably would’ve given my information.”

Bernstein and many other Floridians are worried about responding to contact tracing calls. State and local governments have repeatedly urged people to answer contact tracer questions, which they say are a major key to help control the surging spread of COVID-19. But they also acknowledge there could be scammers looking to exploit a public health crisis. The Attorney General’s Office is even looking into some complaints.

Compounding the suspicions: Dozens of people have reported that a phone number used by one of the state’s contact tracing contractors has popped up as a spam call. The unease goes beyond the one phone number. There are anecdotal reports like Bernstein’s along with rumors circulating on social media of fake COVID-19 test result calls and other phone phishing scams.

The phone number Bernstein was contacted by — 833-917-2880 — has been the subject of nearly 60 complaints, all alleging similar concerns that it was a scam call, according to 800Notes, an online directory where people can publish complaints about unknown callers. But it’s a real contact tracing number.

Maximus, a company the Florida Department of Health hired for contact tracing throughout Florida, confirmed that it is using 833-917-2880 for its staff to call residents who have been in contact with an individual who tests positive for COVID-19.

But for some reason, the phone number has been coming up on people’s caller ID logs as spam, Maximus management told the Miami Herald.

“Our understanding is that the telephone providers have spam blocking tools to protect their customers which we believe may be the reason why citizens are receiving [phone] calls that identify as spam,” Maximus said in an emailed statement from the FDOH. “We are working with the telephone carriers to see if they can modify their blocking configurations which would help alleviate much of the confusion.”

Calls are marked as “Scam Likely” using artificial intelligence that spots if a phone number is displaying unusual behavior, T-Mobile spokesperson Roni Singleton said. “Spoofed calls look very different than direct calls.”

The FDOH did not respond when asked why Bernstein would have been asked for her Social Security number and received a different COVID-19 result than she previously had. The statement from Maximus underlined the public health importance of the calls.

Source: Bradenton Herald