Don’t Be Fooled by Covid-19 Contact-Tracing Scams


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The Covid-19 pandemic has created prime conditions for scams. From phishing attacks to unemployment fraud, attackers have put new, more exploitative twists on their classic hustles. And now the Federal Trade Commission is warning that those fraudsters have designed scams around state contact-tracing initiatives.

You’ve probably heard a lot about contact-tracing mobile apps, but state health departments have also been ramping up manual programs staffed by trained volunteers. The idea is to “trace” people who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, and advise all those who may have been exposed to quarantine strictly at home and monitor for possible symptoms. For all of this to work, contact tracers need to get in touch with lots of potentially impacted people, and many states are sending text alerts to call contact-tracing hotlines. But given that scammers are already adept at blasting out misleading SMS text messages, contact-tracing communications have become a compelling communication to co-opt for fraud.

There’s no question, contact tracing plays a vital role in helping to stop the spread of Covid-19, Colleen Tressler, an FTC consumer education specialist wrote in an alert on Tuesday. But scammers, pretending to be contact tracers and taking advantage of how the process works, are also sending text messages. Theirs are spam text messages that ask you to click a link. Don’t take the bait.

The malicious text messages can include links that either download malware onto your device with one click or take you to a phishing page that tricks you into inputting personal data or a password. One sample SMS scam provided by the FTC reads, “Someone who came in contact with you tested positive or has shown symptoms for Covid-19 & recommends you self-isolate/get tested.” It then prompts the target to learn more by tapping a URL. Such malicious texts could also direct you to call a fake hotline to continue the ruse and grab your information there.

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