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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.

 sample scam text message

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.

For more information, see How to Recognize and Report Spam Text Messages.

Want more information on the latest scams we’re seeing? Sign up for our consumer alerts.

15 Comments


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The purpose of this blog and its comments section is to inform readers about Federal Trade Commission activity, and share information to help them avoid, report, and recover from fraud, scams, and bad business practices. Your thoughts, ideas, and concerns are welcome, and we encourage comments. But keep in mind, this is a moderated blog. We review all comments before they are posted, and we won’t post comments that don’t comply with our commenting policy. We expect commenters to treat each other and the blog writers with respect.

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Notafan
May 19, 2020
Contact Tracing is wrong. Add the scammers to the mix, and it's even worse than being surveilled by the government.
sher
May 19, 2020
Thank you for keeping us up to date.
M A
May 19, 2020
Perhaps the Tracers can include a line in their legitimate text message that instructs the recipient that "legitimate texts you will receive from authorized tracers will not ask for any link to be clicked on and if one needs further information, to please contact their local state public health department." Seems simple enough to educate them with your initial contact.
6stringfan
May 19, 2020
Always be skeptical of ANYTHING you receive as text or emails!
Jimbofishy
May 19, 2020
I have no problem with Covid 19 contact tracing. This Pandemic is serious stuff!! Common sense prevails on any message from an unknown source. I wish we could do contact tracing on the low life scammers!
Old Salt 946
May 19, 2020
I don't know the names of most of the people I come near. I wouldn't know what to tell a contact tracer. "I shopped at Walmart three times in the last two weeks."?
Damien Barrett
May 19, 2020
Not all phones are the same. Some are more secure than others. Why not give us a link to the technical analysis of these malicious text messages and links. Not doing so makes some people think all phones are at risk of malicious software installation, when is is simply not true.
Shag
May 21, 2020

In reply to by Damien Barrett

All smartphones, tablets or computers connected to the internet are vulnerable to some kind of attack. If you believe your phone is immune, you're either naive or trust your phone too much. If you rely on electronics to give you 100% protection against any attacks, you're a potential victim.
Honor
May 20, 2020
If I had this 'virus'----which I do not and neither does anyone I know---no way in the world will I give my private info to anyone for the sake of 'tracking', which it actually is, be it to government or private entity. Add that who's to say those 'trackers' won't use someone's personal data for some nefarious use...?
Swim Mom
May 20, 2020
I don't use a cell phone, so cannot receive texts. Will someone call me on my land line? Is there a way to determine if the caller is legitimate? I generally do not speak with someone who calls me out of the blue, assuming most such callers are out to scam me.
John Smith
May 20, 2020
Helpful article on what to look out for. But the flip side of this i what to safely look for. Do people get legitimate contact tracing notifications, and if so, what do THEY look like, how do we tell the difference.
Paul
July 28, 2020
I have been getting text messages from HCPH saying I need to contact them about urgent health information. I checked their website and the number it says to call is not one of the numbers.
Upset in CA
August 15, 2020
The contacts in my phone are recei ing a text from an open texting app using my full name saying I tested positive for covid 19
DianamDon't us…
August 21, 2020
Google is sneaking and put a Corolla virus apps on my phone behind my back so now I have to change my phone invading my privacy that's a tracking device for track your who you with and who you not with so now I'm going to have to just change my phone
AlohaDabb
September 24, 2020
What are the incoming phone call numbers for quarantine verification?? I'm not on quarantine but keep getting calls from 808- 108-xxxx and 808-125-xxxx