Scam Alert: COVID-19 contact tracing text message scams
Released:May 20, 2020
May 19, 2020
From the Federal Trade Commission:
You’ve probably been hearing a lot about contact tracing. It’s the process of identifying people who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, instructing them to quarantine and monitoring their symptoms daily.
Contact tracers are usually hired by a state’s department of public health. They work with an infected person to get the names and phone numbers for everyone that infected person came in close contact with while the possibly infectious. Those names and phone numbers are often kept in an online system. People who had contact with someone infected with COVID-19 may first get a text message from the health department, telling them they’ll get a call from a specific number. The tracer who calls will not ask for personal information, like a Social Security number. At the end of the call, some states ask if the contact would like to enroll in a text message program, which sends daily health and safety reminders until the 14-day quarantine ends. But 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.
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.
Don’t take the bait. Clicking on the link will download software onto your device, giving scammers access to your personal and financial information. Ignore and delete these scam messages.
There are several ways you can filter unwanted text messages or stop them before they reach you.
Your phone may have an option to filter and block messages from unknown senders or spam.
Your wireless provider may have a tool or service that lets you block texts messages.
Some call-blocking apps also let you block unwanted text messages.
Here are several other steps you can take to protect yourself from text scammers.
Protect your online accounts by using multi-factor authentication. It requires two or more credentials to log in to your account, which makes it harder for scammers to log in to your accounts if they do get your username and password.
Enable auto updates for the operating systems on your electronic devices. Make sure your apps also auto-update so you get the latest security patches that can protect from malware.
Back up the data on your devices regularly, so you won’t lose valuable information if a device gets malware or ransomware.
From the U.S. and State Attorney General's Office:
IRS issues warning about Coronavirus-related scams; watch out for schemes tied to economic impact payments
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today urged taxpayers to be on the lookout for a surge of calls and email phishing attempts about the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. These contacts can lead to tax-related fraud and identity theft.
"We urge people to take extra care during this period. The IRS isn't going to call you asking to verify or provide your financial information so you can get an economic impact payment or your refund faster," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. "That also applies to surprise emails that appear to be coming from the IRS. Remember, don't open them or click on attachments or links. Go to IRS.gov for the most up-to-date information."
Taxpayers should watch not only for emails but text messages, websites and social media attempts that request money or personal information.
"History has shown that criminals take every opportunity to perpetrate a fraud on unsuspecting victims, especially when a group of people is vulnerable or in a state of need," said IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Don Fort. "While you are waiting to hear about your economic impact payment, criminals are working hard to trick you into getting their hands on it. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division is working hard to find these scammers and shut them down, but in the meantime, we ask people to remain vigilant."
Don't fall prey to Coronavirus tricks; retirees among potential targets
The IRS and its Criminal Investigation Division have seen a wave of new and evolving phishing schemes against taxpayers. In most cases, the IRS will deposit economic impact payments into the direct deposit account taxpayers previously provided on tax returns. Those taxpayers who have previously filed but not provided direct deposit information to the IRS will be able to provide their banking information online to a newly designed secure portal on IRS.gov in mid-April. If the IRS does not have a taxpayer's direct deposit information, a check will be mailed to the address on file. Taxpayers should not provide their direct deposit or other banking information for others to input on their behalf into the secure portal.
The IRS also reminds retirees who don't normally have a requirement to file a tax return that no action on their part is needed to receive their $1,200 economic impact payment. Seniors should be especially careful during this period. The IRS reminds retirees – including recipients of Forms SSA-1099 and RRB-1099 − that no one from the agency will be reaching out to them by phone, email, mail or in person asking for any kind of information to complete their economic impact payment, also sometimes referred to as rebates or stimulus payments. The IRS is sending these $1,200 payments automatically to retirees – no additional action or information is needed on their part to receive this.
The IRS reminds taxpayers that scammers may:
Emphasize the words "Stimulus Check" or "Stimulus Payment." The official term is economic impact payment.
Ask the taxpayer to sign over their economic impact payment check to them.
Ask by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information saying that the information is needed to receive or speed up their economic impact payment.
Suggest that they can get a tax refund or economic impact payment faster by working on the taxpayer's behalf. This scam could be conducted by social media or even in person.
Mail the taxpayer a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.
Reporting Coronavirus-related or other phishing attempts
Those who receive unsolicited emails, text messages or social media attempts to gather information that appear to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), should forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taxpayers are encouraged not to engage potential scammers online or on the phone. Learn more about reporting suspected scams by going to the Report Phishing and Online Scams page on IRS.gov.
Official IRS information about the COVID-19 pandemic and economic impact payments can be found on the Coronavirus Tax Relief page on IRS.gov. The page is updated quickly when new information is available.
Attorney General Hunter Announces Price Gouging Statute in Effect Statewide Following Federal Emergency Declaration Regarding COVID-19
OKLAHOMA CITY – Attorney General Mike Hunter today announced the state’s price gouging statute is in effect statewide following Pres. Donald Trump’s emergency declaration regarding COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus.
The price gouging statute, or the Emergency Price Stabilization Act, prohibits an increase of more than 10% for the price of goods or services after a declared emergency. The statute automatically triggers after the issuance of a state or federal emergency declaration.
Attorney General Hunter said the statute allows his office to pursue charges against individuals or businesses that engage in price gouging.
“Scam artists routinely prey on individuals’ emotions during times of fear and crisis,” Attorney General Hunter said. “I encourage Oklahomans to remain calm but cautious during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. Don’t pay inflated prices for things like hand sanitizer, paper towels or other products and services that are becoming sparse. If anyone encounters price gouging, fraudulent charities or other crimes related to deceptive business practices, contact my office where we will not hesitate to prosecute in order to shut these operations down to protect our citizens.”
For more information or to file a complaint, individuals are encouraged to contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit by phone at (405) 521-2029, or email at email@example.com.
The following are guidelines and information on how to avoid scams related to the Coronavirus, as well as where to find additional information and resources:
Avoid all offers for vaccines or other products specifically claiming to treat or cure COVID-19. The FDA has not yet approved any medical products or treatments for this virus;
Do not open emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), or any other entity for which you have not personally subscribed to receive email updates;
Go directly to government websites, like the CDC, to review trusted updates. These organizations will never ask for personal log-in information or require a download to provide health materials from an email; and
Thoroughly research charities claiming to be assisting those affected by the Coronavirus. Reputable relief organizations will never require donations in cash, wire, transfers or gift cards. Do not be pressured into immediately paying, instead take time to confirm legitimacy.
Posted on Fri, March 13, 2020 by Alex Gerszewski
U.S. Attorney’s Office warning of coronavirus scams
TULSA, Okla. (KFOR) – The United States Attorney’s Office is warning the public to be aware of fraud schemes seeking to exploit the evolving COVID-19 public health crisis.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is working with federal, tribal, state, and local law enforcement partners to ensure mission critical operations continue and that public safety is guarded,” said U.S. Attorney Trent Shores. “Unfortunately, as our community takes steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, there are fraudsters who would seek to exploit fear and anxiety during this public health crisis. Attorney General Barr charged U.S. Attorneys across our nation to hold accountable any profiteer seeking to exploit the public, and we will do so. Rest assured, my office is committed to pursuing justice for any Oklahoman victimized by a COVID-19 scam.”
Scammers have already devised numerous methods for defrauding people in connection with COVID-19. They are setting up websites, contacting people by phone and email, and posting disinformation on social media platforms.
Some examples of scams linked to COVID-19 include:
Treatment scams:Scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.
Supply scams: Scammers are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks. When consumers attempt to purchase supplies through these channels, scammers pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.
Provider scams: Scammers are also contacting people by phone and email, pretending to be doctors and hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for COVID-19, and demanding payment for that treatment.
Charity scams:Scammers are soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19.
Phishing scams:Scammers posing as national and global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or providing personal identifying and financial information.
App scams:Scammers are also creating and manipulating mobile apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19 to insert malware that will compromise users’ devices and personal information.
Investment scams:Scammers are offering online promotions on various platforms, including social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. These promotions are often styled as “research reports,” make predictions of a specific “target price,” and relate to microcap stocks, or low-priced stocks issued by the smallest of companies with limited publicly available information.
False bank claims: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has reported an uptick in fraudulent calls, text messages, letters and emails from scammers pretending to be FDIC employees. The scammers falsely claim that banks are limiting access to deposits or that there are security issues with bank deposits. The scammers, along with trying to create distrust, are also after bank account and other personal information. The FDIC does not send unsolicited correspondence asking for money or sensitive personal information. It never will contact people asking for personal details, such as bank account information, credit and debit card numbers, Social Security numbers, or passwords.
You can take the following steps to protect yourself against these scams:
Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19. Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources. Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device.
Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is operating and up to date.
Ignore social media and email offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. Remember, if there is a medical breakthrough, you won’t hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.
Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.
Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19 before giving. Remember, an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like “CDC” or “government” in its name or has reputable looking seals or logos on its materials. For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.
Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail. Don’t send money through any of these channels.
Be cautious of “investment opportunities” tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus. If you decide to invest, carefully research the investment beforehand. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website.
Social Security Launches New Campaign to Fight Scammers
The Social Security Administration launched a new Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign to continue warning people about the ongoing nationwide telephone impersonation scheme. The PSAs feature a message from Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul. Social Security and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) continue to receive reports about fraudulent phone calls from people falsely claiming to be Social Security employees. The scammers mislead victims into making cash or gift card payments for help with purported identity theft, or to avoid arrest for bogus Social Security number problems.
“I want every American to know that if a suspicious caller states there is a problem with their Social Security number or account, they should hang up and never give the caller money or personal information. People should then go online to oig.ssa.gov to report the scam call to Social Security,” said Commissioner Saul.
People should also be on the lookout for a new version of this scam. Fraudsters are now emailing fake documents in attempts to get people to comply with their demands. Victims have received emails with attached letters and reports that appear to be from Social Security or the OIG. The letters may use official letterhead and government jargon to convince victims they are legitimate; they may also contain misspellings and grammar mistakes.
Social Security employees do occasionally contact people--generally those who have ongoing business with the agency--by telephone for business purposes. However, Social Security employees will never threaten a person, or promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money. In those cases, the call is fraudulent and people should just hang up.
Generally, the agency mainly calls people who have recently applied for a Social Security benefit, someone who is already receiving payments and requires an update to their record, or a person who has requested a phone call from the agency. If a person is not in one of these situations, they normally would not receive a call from the agency.
Social Security will not:
Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended.
Contact you to demand an immediate payment.
Ask you for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
Require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, or cash.
Demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.
Promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money.
If there is a problem with a person’s Social Security number or record, in most cases Social Security will mail a letter. If a person needs to submit payments to Social Security, the agency will send a letter with instructions and payment options. People should never provide information or payment over the phone or Internet unless they are certain of who is receiving it.