Feds Warn of Text Scams Related to Contact Tracing

According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers and other bad actors are sending text messages that tell the recipient that someone with whom they have had recent contact has tested positive.

Texting while driving
Shutterstock/Tero Vesalainen
(TNS) — With the coronavirus pandemic still pervading throughout the country, contact tracing is being used as public health tool to slow the spread of COVID-19.

It involves public health workers contacting people who have become infected or exposed to an infectious disease to determine whether others may have been exposed as well.

If someone has been exposed, they are asked to watch for symptoms and take preventive actions, which can slow the spread of the disease.

In recent weeks, though, there have been reports of scammers impersonating public health workers.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers are sending texts that tell the recipient that someone with whom they had contact has tested positive.

They provide a link to click on for more information, and from there, victims could be prompted to download unwanted software that can access data on their phone, or they may be directed to a site that tries to trick them into revealing sensitive information like their Social Security number, bank information, passwords or medical information.

“As testing expands and more people are diagnosed with COVID-19, contact tracing efforts are providing an opportunity for scammers to try and defraud Minnesotans,” Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley said in a release.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm confirmed that public health workers would text someone only after contacting them by phone. Thus, if anyone receives a text without having already heard from public health worker by phone, they should ignore and delete the text.

Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission offered recommendations on how people can protect themselves from these types of scams, including filtering and blocking messages from unknown senders.

Here are several additional steps to combat text scammers:

Protect online accounts by using multi-factor authentication. It requires two or more credentials to log in to an account, which makes it harder for scammers to log in to accounts.

Enable auto updates for the operating systems on electronic devices. Make sure apps also auto-update in order t get the latest security patches that can protect from malware.

Make sure to back up the data on devices regularly to avoid losing valuable information if a device gets malware or ransomware.

Additionally, for those who have clicked on a suspicious link and entered any information as a result, review the information entered and work with the proper provider, whether it’s a bank, email service provider, or other support team to update records and prevent misuse.

©2020 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.