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Scam alert: fake NHS coronavirus contact tracing text

Some people are receiving fake text messages claiming they’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19. Here’s what it looks like.

We’ve been made aware of a fake SMS text that links to a made-up coronavirus contact tracing service. If you follow the link, the site asks for your personal details.

But there’s only one official contact tracing service you can trust, and that’s the one being run by the NHS in England. Its web address is https://contact-tracing.phe.gov.uk.

This is what the fake text looks like:

While this warning relates specifically to England’s test and trace service, it’s important to note that anyone across the UK could receive this fake text message at any time – scammers will often send smishing attempts to large numbers of people, regardless of their location.

 

How to tell if a contact tracing text is real

NHS Test and Trace might text or call you to warn you if you’ve recently been in contact with someone who tests positive for the virus.

You can tell if it’s genuine if it includes a unique ID number. This ID number should allow you to log into the official Test and Trace website.

Instead of following any links included in the text, go to the website from your web browser and enter the ID number you’ve been given.

You could also check whether the text came from the only number dedicated to the NHS tracing service, which is 0300 013 5000. However, there are concerns it could be affected by number spoofing.

No other messaging services are being used to contact people. If you get a message like this on WhatsApp, Telegram or Facebook, for example, you can be sure it’s fake.

Fake NHS texts: how you can tell the difference

Be cautious and report suspicious messages

If you do receive a suspect Test and Trace message, report it to Action Fraud. The National Cyber Security Centre is also encouraging reporting phishing attempts to report@phishing.gov.uk.

Scammers are taking advantage of the pandemic in any way they can to try and steal information and money.

Be generally suspicious of any unusual or unexpected messages that ask for personal information about you or your friends and family.

You can read more about what to watch out for in our guide to spotting scams.

If you’ve received a text like this, or have seen any other messages about the coronavirus outbreak that you think could be fraudulent, tell us about it below in the comments.

Comments

It was only a matter of time before the crooks got busy with this and it will get worse as the testing programme develops. I am assured that I will know if I receive a genuine call to isolate, and I hope that the government have thought this through and the system is indeed foolproof. Once again, it would be useful if the success rate in catching these scammers is enough to deter them. As with other scams they will continue until they become unprofitable.

I agree.

The NHS must advertise the authentic URL and the particular form of identity checking so that people do nor fall for a scam contact. They must make it clear that personal details [e.g. bank account] are not required.

The problem with any function like the trace and contact process that starts with intercommunication between smart phones is that it has inbuilt security weaknesses because it is the only method that enables a text message to be sent to the contact’s phone. People like me who do not use a smart phone, or do not carry one around with them wherever they go, will not get traced, so are not at risk of this particular scam, but that’s not good either because it would lead to a shortfall in the numbers self-isolating and mean that infected people are not getting identified and treated early enough.

I don’t always carry my phone around but have been when out for exercise and collecting groceries since March. It would be useful to publicise this and other scams.

Rosemary Stewart says:
4 June 2020

I actually don’t answer my phone if the caller isn’t on my contacts list.
So i probably wouldn’t even answer my phone.

Rosemary – I am not certain but I believe the NHS trace and contact scheme will send a text message so you will be able to check that it is genuine before taking any action. The scammers are unlikely to know who is on the contact list resulting from the trace operation so their messages are being sent at random in the hope that there will be a response to some of them. The process is still quite a mystery [to me, at any rate] because the people contacted will not be told who they are reputed to have been in proximity with, or where and when presumably, and the chances of knowing the infected person are very slim I should think.

The Which? email promised to help us deal with fake phone calls, but this doesn’t appear explain how to identify fake phone calls.

Anne Irene says:
4 June 2020

A scammer asked for the address of the person and then went on to say there was a £500 charge for the test to be sent through the post

The warning message MUST include information to give the contacted person the location and time of the contact. Two reasons: One, the scammer will not have that information, and two, the contacted person will know straight away whether it is a scam, a mistake, or a genuine report. Without the information NO message can be trusted, and therefore they will probably be ignored.

A neighbour of ours was contacted and told he needed a test which would cost him £500. He put the phone down.

That’s good. I believe that anyone with symptoms can now have a free test.

I detest scammers exploiting people but doing it in the middle of a world crisis is plumbing new depths.

Heather says:
6 June 2020

The guidance here (esp on spotting fake texts) is specific to England. This article would be more helpful if either (a) it said that explicitly, or (b) was expanded to give info about the devolved tracing programmes.

Hi Heather, thanks for raising this – it’s a great point. I’ve amended the article to make this clear.

Very serious, I would probably now delete any email saying I had been close to an infected person so put myself and others in unnecessary danger. These scammers should be rooted out, they threaten lives.

David Reid says:
22 June 2020

Due to patient confidentiality NHS will not give personal details of any person with whom you may have been in contact. But they will just ask if you have symptoms and give you advice about what to do if you feel unwell. Of course, they would NOT ask for bank details as there are no fees to pay.

Mary Minty says:
23 June 2020

Britain has no covid 19 track and trace, abandoned like everything else