Scammers can use links in text messages to install malicious code on your phone or launch a phony webpage to collect personal, health insurance, or financial information for use in other scams. COVID-19 text message scams offer cures, warnings about the need for a test, or "special offers." Do NOT click on links in texts related to the virus, and check cdc.gov/coronavirus for the most current information.
According to the Federal Trade Commission's annual Consumer Sentinel Network report, consumers lost approximately $86 million dollars in 2020 as a result of scam texts.
The FTC posted an alert about a COVID-19 vaccines scam survey. People reported getting emails and text messages asking them to complete a limited-time survey about the Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca vaccine in exchange for a "free reward," for which they were asked to pay shipping fees. This is a scam. It was a phony survey and there was no reward.
The IRS's "Dirty Dozen" scam list for 2021 urges consumers to look out for the red flags of a scam, such as "...any text messages, random incoming phone calls or emails inquiring about bank account information or requesting recipients to click a link or verify data...". One such scam text begins with "IRS COVID-19 News" and includes a link and instructions for recipients "to register/update your information in order to receive the economic impact payment regardless of your status." The link points to a website designed to look like the IRS's and requests identifying information, including date of birth, social security number and filing status. It also requests a debit or credit card number to "verify your identity."
The IRS isn't the only government agency being impersonated. The FCC learned of a text scam claiming to be from the "FCC Financial Care Center" and falsely offering $30,000 in COVID-19 relief. The text is likely a phishing attempt to get banking or other personal information from its victims.
The Better Business Bureau is warning of a text message scam misrepresenting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In this con, someone pretends to represent the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program, preying on grieving families. The scammer claims you qualify for financial assistance but must verify your personal information to "register" you for the program.
If you think you've been a victim of a coronavirus scam, contact law enforcement immediately.
The FCC offers the following tips to help you protect yourself from scams, including coronavirus scams:
- Do not respond to calls or texts from unknown numbers, or any others that appear suspicious.
- Never share your personal or financial information via email, text messages, or over the phone.
- Be cautious if you're being pressured to share any information or make a payment immediately.
- Scammers often spoof phone numbers to trick you into answering or responding. Remember that government agencies will never call you to ask for personal information or money.
- Do not click any links in a text message. If a friend sends you a text with a suspicious link that seems out of character, call them to make sure they weren't hacked.
- Always check on a charity (for example, by calling or looking at its actual website) before donating. (Learn more about charity scams.)
File coronavirus scam complaints online with the Federal Trade Commission.