Police Warn of Coronavirus Text Scam That Contains Fake Alert About Potential Infection

Police in Maine have warned about a text message phishing scam currently in circulation that uses the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak as a convincing lure.

The fraudulent message is spreading a suspicious link with a warning telling recipients they may have contracted COVID-19, the infectious respiratory disease currently spreading across the U.S. In response, law enforcement urged all local citizens to avoid clicking unsolicited URLs.

The phishing text message reads: "Someone who came into contact with you tested positive or has shown symptoms for COVID-19 and recommends you self-isolate/get tested."

The destination of the link was not clear, but experts have previously warned scammers will be exploiting fears of the virus to steal personal data and financial details.

Thomaston Police Department said on Facebook: "If you receive a text message... DO NOT click the link! It is not a message from any official agency. It is however a gateway for bad actors to find their way into your world. The virus is not the only invisible enemy. Be vigilant against all threats!"

Contact tracing apps that send notifications about potential infections do exist—including a version currently being developed by Google and Apple—but those messages would not be sent out without the user first opting in to a specific piece of software and agreeing to their personal data being used.

🚨🚨SCAM ALERT🚨🚨If you receive a text message like the one pictured below, DO NOT click the link! It is not a message...

Posted by Thomaston Police Department on Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has recorded a spike in COVID-19-related scams, and previously warned fraudsters were using government stimulus checks as lures. It explains on its website that text message phishing has remained one of the most frequent forms of scam techniques.

It warns: "[A] common phishing scam brought on by the coronavirus pandemic is fake emails and text messages claiming the government needs you to take an 'online coronavirus test' by clicking a link they provide. No such test currently exists but if you click on the link, scammers can download malware onto your [device] and gain access to your sensitive personal information."

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has recorded over 18,200 complaints about COVID-19 fraud between January 1 and April 14, 2020—with 1,071 of those linked to text-based schemes. The total loss to such fraud in that period was estimated at $13.44 million, the agency said.

"Criminals are now aggressively exploiting our overall unreadiness for the COVID-19 crisis, profiteering from the unprecedented technical susceptibility of the victims. Working from home, operations disrupted by digital transformation and a shortage of security personnel have introduced a wide spectrum of cybersecurity challenges," explained Ilia Kolochenko, CEO of security firm ImmuniWeb.

Independent security researcher Sean Wright recently told Newsweek: "Do not click on any links in texts or email unless you are 100 percent sure that the message is from a trusted source.

"Perform a search through a service such as Google to get the company site or news/information which you might be looking for. Be very cautious about installing applications, especially via any instructions in an email. For mobile devices, only install apps via the official app stores," Wright added.

Person using smartphone (stock)
Police in Maine have warned about a text message phishing scam currently in circulation that uses the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak as a convincing lure. iStock