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Minnesota Department of Commerce and Department of Health Warn Minnesotans of COVID-19 Contact Tracing Scam

5/29/2020 5:16:23 PM

For Immediate Release, May 29, 2020

The Minnesota Department of Commerce and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) are warning Minnesotans to be on alert for text scams related to contact tracing of COVID-19.

Contact tracing is a key public health tool routinely used to slow the spread of an infectious disease. In addition to its current use to fight COVID-19, state and local health officials have used contact tracing to slow and stop the spread of many other outbreaks including the massive 2017 outbreak of measles in Minnesota. Contact tracing involves state and local public health workers contacting people who have become infected or exposed to an infectious disease to determine whether others may have been exposed as well. Potentially exposed people are asked to watch for symptoms and take preventive actions which may mean separating from others. These actions can slow the spread of the disease.

Public health workers conducting contact tracing initially will reach out to people by phone. However, in recent weeks there have been reports of scammers impersonating public health workers. 

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), scammers are sending texts that tell the recipient that someone with whom they had contact has tested positive, and to click a link for more information. Depending on the specific attack, by clicking on the link, the victim could be prompted to download unwanted software that can access data on their phone, or they may be directed to a site that tries to trick them into revealing sensitive information like their Social Security number, bank information, passwords or medical information.

“As testing expands and more people are diagnosed with COVID-19, contact tracing efforts are providing an opportunity for scammers to try and defraud Minnesotans,” said Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley.

“Contact tracing is a very important tool for us as we work to slow the spread of this pandemic, and it’s important that people have confidence to respond when contacted,” MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “We would text someone only after contacting them by phone, so anyone who receives a text message without having already heard from public health officials by phone should ignore and delete the text.”

In addition, the FTC offers recommendations on how to protect yourself from these types of scams:

  • Your phone may have an option to filter and block messages from unknown senders or spam.
  • Your wireless provider may have a tool or service that lets you block texts messages.
  • Some call-blocking apps also let you block unwanted text messages.

Here are several additional steps to protect yourself from text scammers:

  • Protect your online accounts by using multi-factor authentication. It requires two or more credentials to log in to your account, which makes it harder for scammers to log in to your accounts if they do get your username or password.
  • Enable auto updates for the operating systems on your electronic devices. Make sure your apps also auto-update so you get the latest security patches that can protect from malware.
  • Back up the data on your devices regularly to avoid losing valuable information if a device gets malware or ransomware.

Additionally, for those who have clicked on a suspicious link and entered any information as a result, review the information you entered and work with the proper provider - whether that is your bank, email service provider or other support team - to update your records to prevent misuse. If a password was entered through a suspicious link, changing your password directly is the best way to protect your accounts quickly.

Internet scams and fraud can also be reported to the FBI through the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) website. For more information, visit https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/internet-fraud.

Media Contact: Minnesota Department of Commerce
Brian Strub, Assistant Director of Communications, brian.strub@state.mn.us, 651-539-1464.

Media Contact: Minnesota Department of Health
Doug Schultz, Public Information Officer, doug.schultz@state.mn.us, 612-250-2236.

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