Text Message Scams: How to Protect Yourself
Scammers have come up with new schemes by pretending to be coronavirus contact tracers. They trick people by sending text messages to warn them that they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and have them click a malicious link to “learn more”.
At first glance, the text message seems straightforward:
“Someone who came in contact with you tested positive or has shown symptoms for COVID-100 & recommends you self-isolate/get tested,” it says, along with a link promising more information.
When one clicks that link, malicious software is downloaded onto a person’s smartphone, enabling hackers to access their target’s private information, according to a warning from the Federal Trade Commission.
“There’s no question, contact tracing plays a vital role in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19. But scammers, pretending to be contact tracers and taking advantage of how the process works, are also sending text messages. But theirs are spam text messages that ask you to click a link. Check out the image below. Unlike a legitimate text message from a health department, which only wants to let you know they’ll be calling, this message includes a link to click.”
Contract tracers are normally hired by a state’s department of public health. They collaborate with infected people to get the names and phone numbers of everyone that the infected person came in close contact with. Those names and numbers are usually kept in an online system.
People who had contact with someone infected with COVID-19 may get a text message from the health department telling them to expect a certain call from a specific number. The tracer who calls will not ask for personal information like your social security number.
In some states, the caller can ask if the contact would like to enrol in a text message program. The program sends daily health and safety reminders until the 14-day quarantine ends. Note that tracers won’t ask you for money or information like your social security, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.
Don’t Fall for the Text Message Scams
Clicking on the link will only download malicious software onto your device, giving scammers access to your personal and financial information. Simply ignore and delete the message.
There are steps you can take to filter unwanted texts messages or stop them before they reach you:
- Your phone might have an option to filter and block messages from unknown senders or spams
- Your wireless provider may have a tool or service that allows you to block text messages
- Some call-blocking apps also let you block unwanted text messages.
How to Recognize and Report Text Message Scams
If you have a phone, you probably use it daily to text people you know. We have all gotten a text message from an unknown sender at one point in time. Sometimes they are genuine but sometimes it could be scammers trying to steal information. Here’s what you can do about unwanted text messages and how to report them:
Spam Text Messages and Phishing
Scammers send fake text messages to trick victims into giving them personal information. This includes critical information like your password, account number, or social security number. With this information, they can gain access to your email, bank, or other accounts. Alternatively, they could sell the information to other scammers at a price.
Scammers are known to use plenty of ways to try lure victims in. Some of them could be:
- promising free prizes, gift cards or coupons
- offering a low or no interest credit card
- promising to help you pay off your student loans
They also send fake messages saying they have some information about your account or a transaction. They also:
- say they’ve noticed some suspicious activity on your account
- claim there’s a problem with your payment information
- send a fake invoice and tell you to contact them if you didn’t authorize the purchase
- send a fake package delivery notification
The messages ask you to give personal information such as how much money you make, how much you owe, or your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number — to claim your gift or claim the offer.
They also tell you to click on a link to learn more about the issue at hand. Some links take you to a spoofed website that looks real but isn’t. If you use your private login details to log in, the scammers can steal your user name and password. Other messages install harmful malware on your phone that steals your personal information without you realising it.
What to Do About Text Message Scams
If you get a text message that you’re not expecting and it asks you to give personal information, avoid clicking any links within the text. Legitimate organisations won’t ask for information about your account by text.
If you think the message is real, contact the company using a phone number or their official website. Avoid the information contained in the text message at all costs.
To filter unwanted texts:
- Check if your phone may have an option to filter and block messages from unknown senders or spam. Here’s how to block a phone number on an Android phone.
- Different wireless providers have tools or services designed to let you block calls and texts messages.
- Some call-blocking apps enable you to block unwanted text messages. You can also search for apps online and check out the features, user ratings, and expert reviews.
To report spam text messages, you can:
- Report it on the messaging app you use
- Copy the message and forward it to 7726 (SPAM)
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission at gov/complaint.