SAN ANTONIO – Two people who received these text messages asking them to participate in a COVID-19 case study for a hefty compensation asked the KSAT Trust Index Team to see if real companies are recruiting study participants by text.
One text message uses the recipient’s name. The other is vaguer, but both mention a compensation of “up to $1,220” if they participate.
To determine the legitimacy of the texts, KSAT’s Trust Index Team cast a wide web, reaching out to hospital systems, research centers and consumer watchdogs.
“I would be highly suspicious of a message that comes to you unsolicited, apparently from an unidentified source, apparently offering you lots and lots of money and then trying to get you to click on a link. Just don’t do it,” said Dr. Ruth Berggren, an infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine at UT Health San Antonio’s Long School of Medicine.
Everyone else we asked about the text messages echoed Dr. Berggren’s response.
The following are full statements that were sent to KSAT on Tuesday:
Bexar County Metro Health:
“Our team is not aware of any study doing this. No Institutional Review Board’s approved study would have incentives with a dollar amount this high. As always, unsolicited texts can be a scam. Never click on unknown/unsolicited links.”
Baptist Health System:
“These are likely to be illegitimate and could be phishing attacks by cyber criminals. By responding or clicking on links in the message, individuals are putting themselves at risk for malware and cyber-attacks and an infringement on their personal information. Anyone receiving these types of communications should also report any suspicious activity to authorities.
It is recommended that anyone interested in participating in a COVID-19 research study first discuss their intentions with their personal health care provider or local public health agency to determine safety as well as options for study availability and their qualifications.”
South Texas Regional Better Business Bureau:
“One red flag is the high compensation rate, and the link that is unsolicited. Those links can contain malware and once you click on them they can imbed that software in your smart phone and you won’t even know!
"If you have signed up for a medical study and are anticipating some sort of outreach, contact the company directly to find out if this is legitimate.
"These fake text will often ask for personable identifiable information when you click on the link such as your banking information to verify a deposit. Never give out that information to someone you don’t know.”
Dr. Berggren wants the public to be aware of the many legitimate studies currently being conducted by researchers working to defeat COVID-19.
“I don’t want people to shut down and be fearful so that they don’t respond to anything,” she said.
Dr. Berggren is currently working with Metro Health and the COVID Community Response Coalition on surveys that will first be sent to vaccine providers, and eventually, the general public.
“We will be sending out our ask via the Bexar County Medical Society, via the STRAC Emergency Operations Coalition, via Metro Health, and via UT Health,” she said.
Dr. Berggren also wants the public to be aware of the importance of answering local contract tracers who are trying to track the spread of COVID-19. She said they will likely call and leave voicemails, so make sure to listen if you receive one.
In terms of recruitment for COVID-19 studies, KSAT is marking this “Be Careful” on the Trust Index.