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Commissioner Fried & FDACS warn consumers about COVID-19 contact tracing text message scams

By Staff | May 20, 2020

Officials are warning of a number of COVID-19 contact tracing text messaging scams.

“Contact tracing is a powerful public health tool that helps stop the further spread of COVID-19. We have zero tolerance for scammers trying to take advantage of this essential process during these difficult times,” said state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in a statement issued Wednesday. “We urge Floridians to use these tips to learn how to protect themselves and their families against potential fraud or identity theft.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracing has been implemented by various state departments of health, including the Florida Department of Health. The process identifies those who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus and via text message, instructs them to quarantine and to monitor their symptoms daily. Contact tracers 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.

What to Expect: 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. 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.

Contact Tracing Scam: Tracers claiming to be affiliated with a state health department will call and ask for personal information like a Social Security number, bank account information, or a credit card number, are scammers. They pretend to be contact tracers and take advantage of how the process works. Many send spam text messages, which unlike a legitimate text message from a health department who only wants to let consumers know they’ll be calling, includes a link that redirects them to a fraudulent site. Clicking on the link may download software onto a device, giving scammers access to an array of personal and financial information.

What should consumers do?

Consumers should call 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-FL-AYUDA en espaol) or visit FloridaConsumerHelp.com to file a complaint if they suspect they’ve been contacted by a potential scammer or have received a suspicious message regarding COVID-19 contact tracing.

Here are several other steps consumers can take to protect themselves from text scammers:

* Don’t take the bait, ignore and delete these scam messages.

* Protect online accounts by using multi-factor authentication. It requires two or more credentials to log in accounts, making it harder for scammers to log into a secure account if they don’t have a username and password.

* Enable auto-updates for operating systems on electronic devices. Make sure apps also auto-update so the latest security patches can protect against malware.

* Back up data on a device regularly so consumers won’t lose valuable information if a device gets malware or ransomware.

The Federal Trade Commission is a partner agency to FDACS at the federal level and also has helpful consumer information on how to avoid contact tracing and other scams. Click here for more information from the FTC on how to Recognize and Report Spam Text Messages.

For more information on contact tracing, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Source: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services