The coronavirus outbreak has been big business for scammers. First it was fake masks, then fake government grants, then fake COVID-19 tests. Every catastrophe brings out both the best in people and — and sadly, the worst.
Since the pandemic began in late winter, the Better Business Bureau has been tracking numerous reports of “official-sounding” scams attempting to fool people into giving away cash, personal information used for identity theft, or both.
Phony text messages claiming to be from a government agency is one of the latest to be on the watch for.
How the Scam Works
You get a text message that looks like it comes from the U.S. federal government. Current reports say that scammers are impersonating the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but they are unlikely to stop there. The message tells you that you must take a “mandatory online COVID-19 test” and has a link to a website. But there is no online test for coronavirus!
These are far from the only coronavirus text message scams (often known as “smishing” for SMS phishing). BBB has also gotten reports of texts urging recipients to complete “the census” or fill out an online application in order to receive their stimulus check.
No matter what the message says, don’t click! These texts are phishing for personal information. They also can download malware to your device, which opens you up to risk for identity theft.
Tips to Spot a COVID-19 Text Message Scam
- Government agencies do not typically communicate through text messages.
- Ignore instructions to text “STOP” or “NO” to prevent future texts. This is a common ploy by scammers to confirm they have a real, active phone number.
- If you think your text message is real, be sure it’s directing to a web address like “agency.gov” or “agency.ca,” not “agency.otherwebsite.com.”
- Check for look-alikes. Be sure to do your research and see if a government agency or organization actually exists. Find contact info on your own and call the organization or agency to be sure the person you’ve heard from is legitimate.
If you’ve spotted a scam (whether or not you’ve lost money), report it to
BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others avoid falling victim to scams.