COVID-19 Text Message Scams Make Rounds Across U.S.

Experts warn of ‘smishing’ scams using stimulus news to trick people into enrolling in fake COVID relief programs.

Video Transcript

TYLER ADKISSON: As the US waits for another potential round of stimulus checks, scammers are out there smishing-- that is, using text messages to try to steal people's information and money.

KAREN MANNING: It says, "Karen, you have been accepted for our COVID relief program. You are now eligible to earn $1,472 per day." It makes me mad to think about somebody using that to get money out of people.

JACINTA TOBIN: Look at the attackers as like very smart direct marketers. They go with the zeitgeist. They go with what's happening in the media, what consumers are hearing.

NEIL DASWANI: They're throwing the numbers in these tech scams to be very similar to the numbers that the government is promising to get stimulus checks out on. So they are iterating their tax, and they are crafting their messaging to take advantage of the situation.

TYLER ADKISSON: According to the Federal Trade Commission, there's been more than $348 million in COVID-related fraud loss since the start of the pandemic, with roughly $30 million of that coming through text and phone call scams. Experts told Newsy they expect smishing scams to continue through the pandemic, but that the messaging will shift.

JACINTA TOBIN: What we predict, actually, is that there will be a joint IRS tax return and COVID relief smishing happening. One potential example would be that an attacker would say, get your COVID stimulus payment now, before the IRS takes it in a tax bill.

NEIL DASWANI: As more, say, vaccination centers start opening up, then I wouldn't be surprised if the cyber criminal community starts sending out messages saying, oh, you can now get the vaccine.

TYLER ADKISSON: If you get any messages like these, experts say you should look at the content of the message and think through before clicking on any link.

NEIL DASWANI: The way that the government will get you COVID relief is by direct deposit to your bank account or via check in the mail. The government shouldn't send out texts to you.

TYLER ADKISSON: They also say you should block the number of the scammers, copy the text, and forward it to 7726, which spells spam.

JACINTA TOBIN: All the US operators use that to block attacks. So they leverage that information to put in filters to block those attacks.

NEIL DASWANI: If, you know, some of us just go ahead and block the contacts, then that gives the carriers infor-- enough information so that they can take steps to not only block that particular scam, but also analyze the forensics of it in detail and build more defense into the automated detection mechanisms, as well.

TYLER ADKISSON: Tyler Adkisson, Newsy, Chicago.