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Got a COVID Text? It Could Be a Scam!

Election Day has come and gone. As the country turns its focus to the remaining ballot count, we can at least take comfort in the two-year break from campaign ads in commercials, emails, and text messages. Unfortunately, the Security Summit says that you might start receiving a different kind of unwanted text message in the coming weeks and months: COVID-related phishing scams.

Criminals routinely look for ways to innovate how they steal money from hardworking Americans. So, it just makes sense that text messages—our preferred method for avoiding hours long phone calls with that friend—have now become a preferred vehicle for phishing scams.

What is the latest text message scam?

As with previous identity theft tax refund fraud scams, the Summit is reporting that thieves are impersonating the state tax agencies and disaster relief organizations in the latest round of text message scams, which seemingly contain information about the pandemic and Economic Impact Payments.

The IRS press release announcing the Summit’s warning provides example text from one such message that links to a phishing website that looks like “Get My Payment” on “You have received a direct deposit of $1,200 from COVID-19 TREAS FUND. Further action is required to accept this payment into your account. Continue here to accept this payment.”

Many phishing sites include information-gathering fields or have a button that downloads malware to your device. However, some sites merely require victims to open the webpage to install information-stealing malware, using embedded scripts to automate the whole process.

How do I know it’s a scam?

First, the IRS will not text or email you out of the blue. The agency generally sends physical letters before any other type of communication, and they never threaten recipients with jailtime or litigation. And any message that requires gift cards or virtual currency as payment is probably a scam. Second, once money is deposited in one of your bank accounts, you don’t have to do anything else to access it. It’s either in your account, or it isn’t.

What should I do if I get a COVID text scam?

If you see one of these text messages pop up in your notifications, do not open it. That essentially eliminates the possibility that you’ll touch—and open—embedded links or attachments. (Think about how many times you’ve accidentally “liked” a Facebook or Twitter post while scrolling on your phone. Instead of mere embarrassment, you would also have to worry about someone stealing your identity.)

The IRS wants everyone who receives one of these text messages to report the incident to Attach a screenshot of the message, and note the number that sent the message, and the number of the device that received it, and the date, time, and time zone in which it was received.

Long story short, you need to closely scrutinize every text-based message that comes across your device, whether in your email inbox, social media messenger, or text messaging app. Identity thieves’ campaign for your cash is just getting started, and it’s written in Helvetica Neue.


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