'Coronavirus safety mask' scam will text-spam all of your friends: How to avoid it

The front (and only) page of the 'coronavirus safety mask' scam site.
The front (and only) page of the 'coronavirus safety mask' scam site. (Image credit: Screen grab by Tom's Guide)

Do you want a "Coronavirus safety mask"? Do you think an Android app can get one for you? If so, then you're ripe to be victimized by a bizarre multi-step scam spotted by Zscaler researchers.

The scam begins with a website, still up as of this writing, that simply states, "Download App From Below Button And Install. You Will Get A Corona Safety Mask."

If you click the button, you download an Android app installation file to your computer or mobile devices, which you can sideload or install onto an Android device. 

Launch the app, and you're presented with another button labeled "GET SAFETY MASK." Tap it, and you're taken to a second scam site purportedly selling masks. But right now, the mask-selling site is not selling anything, because apparently "You infected [the mask site] with High Dose of Traffic."

So you get no mask. But the app makers get all your contacts from your Android phone and then spam everyone you know with texts luring them to the first "Coronavirus Safety Mask" site, and the cycle of absurdity begins again. (You can deny the app privileges to read contacts or send SMS messages during installation.)

How to avoid the 'coronavirus safety mask' scam

Avoiding this scam is pretty simple. Don't install Android apps from anywhere other than the official Google Play store. Install and run one of the best Android antivirus apps. And don't believe random websites that tell you they can sell you with hard-to-find medical supplies.

Just getting warmed up

That's all that this scam does so far, but Zscaler's Shivang Desai thinks it could do much more. 

"There's the threat that the malware could ask the victim to pay online for the mask and steal the credit card information, but we did not find any such functionality in the app," Desai wrote in a company blog posting. "We believe the app is in its early stages and this (and other) functionalities will be added as the app is updated."

Paul Wagenseil

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at FoxNews.com, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.