Better Business Bureau warns of ‘mandatory online COVID-19 test’ text message scam

LOS ANGELES -- Better Business Bureau (BBB) released a warning to individuals involving a text message scam impersonating government agencies in an attempt to obtain sensitive information.

Otherwise known as “smishing” for SMS phishing, these texts contain links with messages that urge recipients to “complete the census” or to fill an application in order to receive a check from the recently passed $2.2 trillion stimulus bill.

BBB says its scam trackers have come across messages sent from what would appear to be the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and urges people to be wary as government agencies typically do not communicate through text messages.

Here’s how the scam works

Individuals receive a text appearing to be from a government agency asking recipients to click on a link to a supposed government site.

"Current reports say that scammers are impersonating the US Department of Health and Human Services, but they are unlikely to stop there," the BBB warned. "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!*"

Other scam texts usually ask for information relating to the 2020 census or the recently passed stimulus check, according to the Better Business Bureau.

But COVID-19 scams aren’t limited to text messages: The Secret Service said scammers have been sending emails under the guise of a medical official with important information about coronavirus. When the victim lets their guard down and opens an attached file, their computer becomes infected with malware.

The scammer could access the victim’s passwords and possibly even their financial information.

Don’t click the link!

Misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic has been rampant, and it is understandably difficult to filter through the various scams that have surfaced amid the confusion caused by the outbreak.

Many workers left without a source of income overnight because of the mass closures implemented to stop the spread of the coronavirus are desperately looking for answers as to when to expect a check promised to them following Congress’ passage of the historic COVID-19 stimulus bill.

But no matter what is offered to you in an email or text message, don’t bite, the Secret Service advises.

“Avoid opening attachments and clicking on links within emails from senders you do not recognize,” the Secret Service said. These attachments can contain malicious content, such as ransomware, that can infect your device and steal your information.”

The Better Business Bureau recommends consumers ignore instructions to text back “STOP” or “NO” in suspect text messages, as this informs the scammer that they have connected with a real person.

How to spot a COVID-19 text scam

Any critical information during the COVID-19 pandemic is already available on government websites and would not normally be sent as a text message. If you get a text, verify it.

Be sure to do research on whether or not the agencies mentioned in the fraudulent text you receive are real. Call the agency or organization to make sure the text or email is legitimate and not a scam.

If you have received a text message requesting information for the retrieval of a stimulus check, remember that those who qualify for the funds will either receive a physical check or a direct deposit into their bank accounts. Do not click a link to give personal information through a text message or email.

On their website, the Federal Communications Commission details reports of scam and hoax text messages and robocalls “offering free home testing kits, promoting bogus cures, selling health insurance, and preying on virus-related fears.“

The FCC notes that consumers may receive hoax text messages that indicate the government is enforcing a two-week quarantine or that it is necessary to stock up on supplies and food. The FCC said scam messages can even appear to have come from a “next door neighbor.”

There are also reports of robocalls being used to target consumers. The World Health Organization said scammers posing as WHO representatives have been calling individuals in attempts to steal money from them. The scam callers will often ask for a person's login information or request a donation to an emergency relief fund.