New virus scam sends texts regarding contact tracing

Posted 5/28/20

Even in our most difficult times, criminals never let up.

And during the worst economic crisis of the past half-century, cybercriminals are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to their …

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New virus scam sends texts regarding contact tracing

Posted

Even in our most difficult times, criminals never let up.

And during the worst economic crisis of the past half-century, cybercriminals are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to their advantage.

“Even as our nation is faced with a national health crisis, cybercriminals have proven time and time again that they will show no mercy,” said Gavin Smith of PC Matic, a cybersecurity firm who released a new cybercrime study on Wednesday.

One of the latest trends involves scammers sending fake text messages regarding coronavirus contact tracing to the phones of unsuspecting victims.

Fraudsters are posing as contact tracers, tricking people into giving up their personal information and breaking the trust in real contact tracers hoping to keep the country safe and healthy.

The Federal Trade Commission has taken notice, issuing a consumer warning in the blog section at www.consumer.ftc.gov.

“This is absolutely despicable,” said Peoria resident Alan Manning on Wednesday evening. “As if there isn’t enough to worry about with the virus, this sort of stuff is going on. These people are unbelievable.”

Scammers are sending text messages with a generic boilerplate message about how “you were exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.” The message also includes a link where you can supposedly learn more or sign up for testing.

Experts warn the public to never, ever click the link.

According to komando.com, these text messages contain malicious links that can install tracking software on your device capable of stealing valuable personal information.

In addition, some messages have links to phishing websites where you may be asked to input your own information — this makes it extremely difficult to catch the thieves responsible for the crime.

Even worse, this type of criminal act could make people doubt legitimate contact tracing efforts, according to the FTC. 

Experts advise that text messages from local health departments will never include links. Instead, the message will tell you a phone call is on the way and will include the phone number where the call will come from.

“When a real contact tracer calls you, they won’t ask you for any financial or identifying information like a Social Security number,” stated James Gelinas of komando.com. “What they may ask you for is whether or not you want to enroll in text alerts going forward. Any caller who asks for personally identifying information aside from that is a scammer, and you should hang up immediately.”

The website outlined a few red flags to look out for:

  • Presence of a link — real contact tracing texts are notifications of an upcoming call and won’t include links of any kind.
  • Bad English — watch for unusual spelling and grammar in the text message.
  • Alarmist language — Some of these text messages will use frightening or sensational language to try to get you to act quickly. Legitimate contact tracers will work with you professionally and refrain from scare tactics.
  • Requests for personal data — ignore any texts that request personal information about you or others. The only information you’ll be asked during a legitimate contact tracing session is who you’ve been in contact with and potentially their phone numbers.
  • Requests for money — anything asking you to submit a payment of some kind can be immediately disregarded. A mention of gift cards or Bitcoin are major red flags.

The FTC also recommends enabling two-factor authentication for all your important accounts. Activating “Do Not Disturb” on your device is also an effective way to block spam text messages.

“In the end, these scams can’t hurt you so long as you avoid being tricked,” Mr. Gelinas stated. “Please don’t click on links you don’t recognize.”

Mr. Manning reported he had not seen any of these bogus texts on his phone but said he was “going to be vigilant.”

The PC Matic report released earlier this week focused on the link between cybercrime and the number of employees working from home during the pandemic. The 11-page report presented the results of a nationally-distributed survey to which 6,000 individuals responded.

The findings, gathered earlier this month, paint a negative picture for an American workforce at high risk for falling victim to cybercrimes.

For example, those surveyed who use their personal devices for work purposes said that only 7 percent of employers provided them with an antivirus solution to protect their device from cyberattacks.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they had not been working from home as a result of the crisis. Of those 40 percent working from home, nearly two-thirds indicated their employer did not issue a device for work-related purposes.

“The first lockdown caught many by surprise and required businesses to be reactive in order to keep their operations running,” Mr. Smith said. “We now have the opportunity to be proactive and prepared for the future.”

To view the full report, visit www.pcmatic.com.

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