PARMA, Ohio — Over the last several weeks, health officials have stressed how important testing and contact tracing are to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, Cuyahoga County officials say criminals are making the process of tracking down contacts much harder for them by posing as contact tracers and trying to steal personal information.
"These scammers are very focused on getting at your personal information and your money. They're constantly thinking of new ways to get to you,” Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish said.
In the last few weeks, testing in hospital labs in the county has increased thanks to a partnership with MetroHealth. This week, 22,356 people were tested, up from 14,080 the week before and 7.1% of those tests were positive.
“Labs then forward positive test results to us, and then that's where our whole contact tracing process begins,” Romona Brazile, Deputy Director of Prevention and Wellness for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, said.
Contact tracing helps officials find people who have come into contact with someone who’s infected.
“So these people can isolate themselves or be isolated. This is a necessary, necessary procedure to stop the spread,” Budish said.
But that’s where county officials say they’ve hit a bump in the road.
“We have also of course heard about contact tracing scams. And honestly, it has made contact tracing much more difficult for our staff,” Brazile said.
Officials say some people have posed as contact tracers and tried to get social security or bank account numbers from people - information the health department will never ask for. Now, they’re letting people know what to look out for.
“What a staff person would ask for if they call, would be to verify the person's name, their date of birth, their address, and the names and phone numbers of people they have been in contact with,” Brazile said.
Friday, Budish encouraged people who have received suspicious calls or texts to report them to the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs at 216-443-SCAM. They can also call the Cuyahoga County Board of Health a 216-201-2000 to verify if the tracer that contacted them actually works there.
“We're always looking for ways to increase awareness of scams. That's the best protection that people have, if they know what to watch out for,” Budish said.