The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on Saturday directed local government units (LGUs) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to track down with vigilance scammers posing as legitimate contact tracers and extorting money from their hapless victims.
DILG Secretary Eduardo Año pointed out that unscrupulous groups claiming to be from the Department of Health (DOH) have taken advantage of the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic to dupe the public for their financial gains.
In an advisory on August 7, the DOH warned the public of certain individuals misrepresenting themselves as members of the DOH Contact Tracing Team.
The DOH added “these con artists are maliciously asking for personal information and extorting money in the process. The public is advised to be vigilant and not entertain these calls.
The DOH reminds the public that it does not have a contact tracing team and “to verify basic information and ensure that they have been referred by your Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs)”.
Año ordered the LGUs and the PNP to be up on their toes and to be constantly on the look-out for scammers amid the COVID-19 pandemic as “these opportunistic criminals will take advantage of the fear and panic of the people’’.
An infuriated Año also lashed out at these con artists describing them as another “virus’’ that the public should be aware of.
The DILG chief chided their shameless acts for having the gall to defraud the public at these trying times of the pandemic.
“I urge all LGUs and our men and women of the PNP to immediately investigate these criminal activities,” Año said.
The DILG reported that extortion and scam cases are slowly increasing as more victims are coming forward.
“The public must beware. ‘Wag po tayong magpaloko sa mga ito (We should not allow them to victimize us),” he added.
Año said the contact tracing teams are led by the LGUs and are supervised by the DILG.
Año urged the public to immediately report suspicious calls “of the same nature to the nearest police station or PNP unit or call the DILG through Hotline 911 and the DILG-Public Assistance and Complaint Center at 8925-0343’’.
The DOH also advised the public “to follow the safety protocols if they find themselves in the same situation which include: Do not give out your personal information and end the call; Take note of the number and block it; and, Report the incident to DOH’s Call Center Hotline through telephone number (632) 8651-7800 local 5003-5004 or email [email protected]’’.
The DILG revealed reports that individuals pretending to be members of a contact tracing team had called and sent messages to households telling them that they were identified as being in close contact with COVID-19 positive persons.
“Later on, reports say that they would try to extort money for the cost of test kits once personal information was given to them,’’ the DILG statement noted.
Año reiterated the contact tracing teams will never demand for money “for their task is to track down and manage close contacts, reduce the spread of infection, and offer diagnostic, counselling and treatment to confirmed COVID-19 cases. Yun lamang po (That is all)”.