With state and local governments reducing restrictions on business operations and public gatherings during the pandemic, their public health strategies often rely on robust contact tracing to help slow the spread of the disease by informing people who have had contact with someone who has tested positive. However, scammers can take advantage of this vital information tracking to prey on consumers.

Contact tracing scams reported to Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker and local authorities take two common forms. A consumer may receive an unsolicited text message, email or social media message informing them she has been exposed to COVID-19, instructing her to self-isolate and providing a link with more information. The link, in reality, may download malware to her device. Alternatively, a robocall may inform the consumer of COVID-19 exposure, and when the consumer elects to speak to a representative, the caller will ask to verify personal information — potentially leading to identity theft.

In May, an Amarillo, Texas, consumer reported receiving a robocall about “contact and tracing efforts” that asked the consumer to verify personal information, including date of birth and financial information. The consumer ended the call without disclosing anything.

A real contact tracer will make contact only by phone and will always self-identify as a representative of a local health department or local government. While the contact tracer must confirm personal information such as name, address and date of birth, they will never inquire about financial information or ask for any government ID numbers or bank account details. They will ask about your current health, medical history and recent travels, but they will never reveal the name of the person who tested positive for COVID-19 and prompted their call.

BBB receives thousands of reports of phishing scams every year, with fraudsters frequently taking advantage of major news items like these. Tips for avoiding phishing scams:

• Be careful with unsolicited calls asking for your banking information. Scammers posing as contact tracers may insist this is personal information they need to verify before proceeding, but real, government-employed contact tracers will never ask for this.

• Double-check the URL in any unsolicited link. Scammers often buy official-looking URLs to use in their cons. Be careful that the link is really what it claims to be. If the message alleges to come from the local government, make sure the URL ends in .gov. When in doubt, perform a separate internet search for the website.

• Know your sender. Don’t click, download or open anything that comes from an anonymous sender. This is likely an attempt to gain access to your personal information or install malware on your computer.

• Be cautious of generic emails. Scammers try to cast a wide net by including little or no specific information in their fake messages. Always be wary of unsolicited messages that don't contain your name, last digits of your account number or other personalizing information.

BBB has more COVID-19 scam alerts at bbb.org/coronavirus. For assistance, go to bbb.org or call 417-380-5074.

Stephanie Garland is director of the Better Business Bureau in Springfield. Among those counties served by BBB Springfield are Jasper, Newton, McDonald, Lawrence and Barton counties. Emails may be sent to sgarland@springfieldbbb.org.