A North Shore woman has been left unnerved after getting a text pick-up message from a stranger who claimed he got her number off a supermarket COVID-19 tracing sign-in sheet.
The 23-year-old, who does not want to be identified, said she went to buy groceries at the weekend from the Glenfield Countdown but did not have her phone on her and had to sign in as she entered the store.
Yesterday morning – two days later – she noticed a message “with appalling grammar” from a number that she did not recognise.
“Hey hw r u” was the unexpected greeting.
When she asked who was contacting her the mystery person identified themselves by their first name, and revealed where they got her number from.
“(Name withheld) I gt yr num frm Covid Tracer form.”
She said she took immediate action to stop any further communication.
“I just blocked them straight away,” said the newly engaged young professional. “I’m not dealing with that sh*t!”
It’s the second time a New Zealand woman has complained that private contact details have been abused to make unwanted advances.
In May, a North Shore Subway employee allegedly harassed a customer by using contact tracing details to message her.
The woman, “Jess” was left feeling “gross” and “creeped out and vulnerable” after a man who took her order sent her an email, a text and requests on Facebook and Instagram.
An employee was suspended and the franchise subsequently implemented a digitised contact-tracing system which was only accessible should the Health Ministry need to trace someone.
The supermarket shopper said it was very concerning to get an unwanted approach but felt it best to speak out, fearing the texter may have photographed the entire list and made similar unwanted approaches to other women.
“It’s a bit scary to get text messages like that, especially that someone thinks it is appropriate to take your information off something like that,” she said.
Rather than approach the store or privacy commissioner, she believed speaking out and raising this issue was enough action to force change.
“And it should be enough for stores to know it shouldn’t be displayed out in the open,” she added.
She called for shops to take more care of personal details and guard them better from prying eyes. Many stores have sign-in tracing lists on full public display.
“I’m good at keeping things quite private but to think it could get into the hands of the wrong person … You never know what people will do.”
The Woolworths-owned supermarket today encouraged the woman to get in touch with them, adding a request for everyone to respect the privacy of other shoppers needing to sign in.
“We are very sorry to hear about this issue. We would be pleased to look into it further and/or notify the police if the customer would like,” a spokeswoman said.
The paper forms were at the customer service desk, which meant staff were generally able to keep an eye on it.
Once a page was full, the checkout team took it to the office, where it was locked away, she said.
“We ask our customers to respect the personal information of others when signing the paper tracing form so that people are not deterred from using it,” she said.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner advised the woman to lay a complaint with the business.
If the business could not resolve the issue to her satisfaction she could then make a complaint to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
“The Privacy Act puts obligations on organisations to keep personal information safe,” said senior communications adviser Charles Mabbett.
Privacy commissioner John Edwards has made it clear businesses should only be custodians of the information they’re given for public health purposes and it was concerning this sort of incident could make the public wary of leaving contact details.
“It is absolutely essential that businesses treat this information exclusively for pandemic management,” he said.
“If they let it be abused by staff members or customers, it’s going to undermine the whole system and that can put people at risk.”
In an earlier post, Mr Edwards had suggested businesses needed to think about who needed to view the form.
“Should the 25th person to sign in be able to see the name and phone number and contact details of the other 24 people to have signed in?” he wrote.
“Perhaps it is possible to cover the previous entries, and ask each person to move the cover down when they’ve filled in their entry. There will be other ways of protecting the information. For example, don’t let patrons photograph the register.”
The best way remained using the NZ COVID Tracer app to record movements, he said.
This article originally appeared on NZ Herald and was reproduced with permission