As communities try to stay safe and informed during the global-spread pandemic this spring, one police department in Thomaston, Maine, has been facing an extra obstacle in their fight with the virus.
The Thomaston Police Department warned people in the 2,800-resident town that a new text message scam was being used to mine for personal information, sending out messages to cell phones and falsely alerting recipients of a positive COVID-19 test in their area.
“If you receive a text message like the one pictured below, DO NOT click the link! It is not a message from any official agency. It is however a gateway for bad actors to find their way into your world,” the police department posted on Facebook, sharing the message alongside a picture of the false message appearing on a mobile phone.
That message, which falsely informs of a positive COVID-19 test or symptoms displayed by someone the recipient has come in contact with, offers a seemingly official hyperlink to get more information on the situation.
“The virus is not the only invisible enemy,” the police department added. “Be vigilant against all threats!”
Phishing is a form of cyber data collection that uses a bunk web link to lure unsuspecting victims into giving out personal information, oftentimes either bank information or enough personal information to hack into additional accounts.
These “bunk” links often look very similar to official websites, using small changes in the location of punctuation or abbreviated words to mimic websites that phishing victims believe they can trust. Such emails or text messages often have some sort of urgent message—like a warning that you may have come in contact with the virus—to convince recipients to click through to a new site, where they’re often asked to give some kind of personal information that could later be used for fraudulent activity.
Unfortunately, the virus-spread tests aren’t the only ways that phishing organizations have been taking advantage of fear and panic to prey on vulnerable groups, either. According to the Better Business Bureau, others have been sending out information for senior citizens to use when they’re trying to qualify for the stimulus check many Americans will be getting in the coming weeks. These texts and emails have asked seniors to fill out a form to qualify for the stimulus money—which you don’t actually have to do.
With misinformation like this spreading around, it can be tough to feel like there’s any kind of litmus test for what’s real and what’s fake. But typically, getting all information related to the virus will come from official CDC or state-level government channels—and as for the stimulus money, the only way to truly trust a source is to check with the IRS website. No seniors will need to fill out any additional forms to get that money—so if an email or text message asks you to do so, it’s coming from a less-than-savory source.