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FTC warns of coronavirus contact-tracing text scams

If a text or supposed tracer asks for sensitive or financial information, it's a scam.

Shelby Brown Editor II
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
  • She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Shelby Brown
Coronavirus phone

If a tracer contacts you, they won't ask for personal information.

James Martin/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday warned the public about scammers taking advantage of contact tracing to steal your information. Contact tracers are generally hired by a state's department of public health. If a tracer contacts you, they won't ask for personal information. If the person contacting you is asking for money or sensitive information like your Social Security number, bank account or credit card number, it's a scam. 

Read moreFTC sends more than 120 warnings about false coronavirus treatments

The FTC suggests filtering unwanted text messages with tools on your device, through your wireless provider or with call-blocking apps. The agency also encourages multi-factor authentication for online accounts, regular software updates and data backups. 

Contact tracing is the process of identifying people who have come in contact with someone who's tested positive for COVID-19, instructing them to quarantine and monitoring their symptoms daily, according to the FTC's blog post

If you've had contact with someone who's tested positive for COVID-19, contact tracers might send a text from the health department that says someone will be in touch via phone. The FTC said that the contact tracer might only ask if you want to enroll in a text message program for daily health and safety reminders until the 14-day quarantine ends. 

Read more: Feds threaten to cut off service providers allowing illegal COVID-19 related robocalls

Watch this: Contact tracing explained: How apps can slow the coronavirus