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Beware of COVID-19 contact tracing text scams, authorities warn

The text message scams claim a person has been in contact with someone infected with the coronavirus and asks them to click a malicious link.
/ Source: TODAY

Scammers pretending to be coronavirus contact tracers are sending text messages to warn people they've been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and need to click a 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 that link is clicked, malicious software is downloaded onto a person's smartphone, giving hackers access to their target's private information, according to a warning from the Federal Trade Commission.

"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," Colleen Tressler, a consumer education specialist with the FTC said in a blog post.

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Contact tracers, who are usually hired by a local health department, play a vital role in helping to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

"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," Tressler said.

However, contact tracers will only text to warn someone that the health department will be calling them and will never ask for personal information, such as a social security number or bank information. At the end of a call with a legitimate contact tracer, they will also sometimes give people the option to enroll in text message updates.

The best course of action is to ignore any suspicious text messages that include a link or ask for personal information. Many mobile service providers also offer the option in settings to filter or block texts from unknown phone numbers.