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VERIFY: Links in contact tracer text messages don't take you to legitimate site

The FTC warns clicking on a link could download malware on your device.

WASHINGTON — QUESTION:

Are text messages about being in contact with someone who's tested positive real and what happens if you click the link for more information?

ANSWER:

No, they are not real and clicking links may result in malware being downloaded on your device.

SOURCE:

Federal Trade Commission

PROCESS:

Contact tracing is the process of identifying people who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, telling them to quarantine and monitoring their symptoms daily. 

There are texts messages warning, “someone who came in contact with you tested positive for COVID-19” and it says click here for more information.

Our source for this one is the Federal Trade Commission.

It says contact tracing plays a vital role in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19 and contact tracers are usually hired by a state’s department of public health.

Andrew Smith is the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and he says, “You may receive a call, email, text or visit from a contact tracer, and you should not hesitate to talk with them.”

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Smith said, “But beware if they ask you for money, bank account information, your Social Security number, or to click on a link, as those are sure signs of a scam.”

The FTC warns clicking on a link could download malware onto your device.

So, we can Verify, False, contact tracer text messages asking you to click a link are not real.

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So how do you know if someone is really trying to get in touch with you about contact tracing?

Our Verify team reached out to the DC, Maryland and Virginia health departments

The DC Health Department says a contact tracer will CALL you about the exposure and they’ll ask for demographic, health and household information.

Residents contacted via a landline number (personal or business) have Caller Name enabled by default, and will always be able to see the Caller Name “DC COVID19 TEAM” when they receive a call from the DC Health Contact Tracing team.

Mobile subscribers may receive Caller ID services only if they have opted-in to a premium paid service provided by the carrier. Other mobile subscribers will see the number (202) 442-9290

DC residents who test positive for COVID-19 may receive a text from the DC Health Contact Tracing team reading: "Hi, the DC COVID19 Team tried to reach you. We will attempt to call you back from +1 (202) 442-9290. We would appreciate if you could answer or return our call."

Maryland contract tracers are also reaching out to people by phone only and it says the Caller ID shows up as “MD COVID.” 

If you don’t’ have Caller ID, look for the number (240) 466-4488.

In Maryland, contact tracers will ask you to verify your date of birth, address, and any other phone numbers you may have.

And the Virginia Department of Health says contact tracers make initial contact by telephone and the Caller ID reads “VDH COVID TEAM.” 

Contact tracers will leave a message asking for the contact to return their missed call and will provide their VDH-issued cell phone number.

VDH contact tracers will always identify themselves and state their affiliation and purpose for calling and while they may use text messaging, the preferred method of contact is a phone call.

VDH contact tracers have VDH e-mail accounts and any e-mail communications from a contact tracer will come from an e-mail address ending in "@vdh.virginia.gov".

Contact tracers are trained not to include any protected health information (PHI) in e-mail communications unless the e-mail is encrypted.

Contact tracers will offer to enroll Virginians in a voluntary contact monitoring platform called Sara Alert, which individuals can use to update local health departments on their health status during the period of time they are participating in public health monitoring. 

The Sara Alert system is secure and always contacts users from the same phone number or email: 844-957-2721 or notifications@saraalert.org.

The DC, Maryland and Virginia health departments said its contact tracers will never ask for your social security number, immigration status, banking information passwords, money or payment.

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