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NHS Warns About Deceptive Covid Close Contact SMS Messages

With the recent surge of Covid cases in the UK, there have been reports of individuals receiving deceptive text messages that claim to be from the NHS. These texts alert recipients that they have been in close proximity to someone who tested positive for Covid and must order a PCR test. However, this is a scam. The scam texts use variations of messages like "You've been in close contact with a person who has contracted the Omicron variant" or "We have been notified that you have been in close contact with a confirmed Omicron case."

The text then urges recipients to click a link to order a PCR test and pay for it. The link might contain words like "test and trace," "swab," "kit," "health," or “NHS.” Some people who have clicked on the link reported that the website appears identical to the genuine NHS site.

The most recent estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that approximately one in 37 individuals in the UK has Covid, which is an increase from one in 50 the previous week.

If you receive such a text, do not click on the link, and never provide any personal information on an untrustworthy website. The scammers behind these texts may be attempting to steal valuable personal information, such as passwords or banking details.

The NHS has issued a warning stating that these texts are fraudulent. They emphasize that free PCR tests are no longer widely available, and the NHS would never ask for your bank details.

In a tweet earlier this year, the NHS cautioned, "Be cautious of fraudulent NHS text messages claiming that you've been in close contact with someone who has the Omicron variant. We will never request your bank details. Please be wary of suspicious messages with links to counterfeit websites."

In response to a user reporting the text on Twitter, the NHS replied, "It sounds like one of the scam text messages. Free PCR tests are generally not offered anymore, so we advise caution regarding this message. If the website asks you to pay for anything, including postage fees, it is a scam."

The NHS shared a link to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC)'s guidance on phishing and how to report scam texts.

According to the NCSC, most phone providers participate in a program that enables customers to report suspicious texts free of charge by forwarding them to 7726. Your provider can investigate the text's source and might be able to block or ban the sender if it is determined to be malicious.

Alternatively, you can take a screenshot of the text and send it to report@phishing.gov.uk. You can also google the phone number what people are reporting on reverse phone websites. We found one such number on whocalledme website where people are reporting fraudulent SMS messages and phone calls impersonating the NHS Covid Service.

The term "smishing" is derived from "phishing," which refers to scammers attempting to obtain personal data through email and social media. In the case of smishing, scammers send fake links to individuals through text messages or "SMS."

In 2023, in an effort to combat phishing attacks, the NCSC collaborated with the City of London Police to develop the Suspicious Email Reporting Service. As a result, the public has submitted 12 million red flags indicating potential phishing attacks, leading to the removal of over 80,000 scams from the internet.