San Diego County Registrar of Voters

Scammers Are Mimicking Ballot-Tracking Text Service

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Identity theft experts and elections officials are on guard for a new type of cybersecurity threat - one that stands not just to rob you of your personal information, but undermine your faith in the election.

Have you seen one? A text message purporting to be from the U.S. Postal Service or the election office? They're made to look like the real thing, but they’re not.

Last week, NBC 7 Investigates showed you how to track your ballot by signing up for text notifications.

Even then, Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation worried bad actors might capitalize on this new statewide voter service.

“One issue that’s been discussed on one of the election security lists that I’m on is the potential for somebody to spoof this service,” said Alexander in an interview last Friday. “Or alarm voters with messages that are fraudulent.”

And sure enough, with ballots in the mail, phishing texts are coming in. Some say they’re from the USPS. Others might say they’re from the Registrar of Voters asking you to take a survey or re-register to vote.

“Those are largely fake,” said James Lee with the Identity Theft Resource Center. “They’re an attempt to get you to render your information.”

Lee said it’s no coincidence some of these texts look an awful lot like the ballot tracking service texts.

“They are similar,” Lee said. “And they are intended to confuse people. They’re intended to make it look like this is real.”

“There’s risk to you personally,” added Lee. “And in this case, because we’re talking about an election, there’s risk to our society. There’s risk to our country.”

On Thursday morning I - NBC 7 reporter alexis Rivas - recieved a text from someone pretending to be from the USPS offering a gift if I complete a survey.

And last Sunday, I got a legitimate text from the Registrar of Voters alerting me that my ballot was in the mail and on the way to me.

They look similar, but there are a few key differences letting you know what's real and what's not. Check out this email address provided in the real text: it ends with a “.gov” not some jumble of letters.

And if you scroll up on the text thread, you’ll see it starts with me confirming the text service. All texts regarding your ballot should be attached to the same thread.

So if you get texts from separate numbers, chances are high it’s phony.

Michael Vu with the Registrar of Voters said there are two simpler tells:

  1. The elections office will NEVER text you with details about who you vote for – that information is private and even the folks at the Registrar of Voters don’t know how you vote
  2. It’s illegal to offer any incentives for voting at all, especially for a particular candidate, so if you get a text offering you a prize, you know it’s definitely a scam.

“Give our office a call at (858) 565-5800 and we will let you know if it is sanctioned by us or if it is not sanctioned by us,” said Vu.

“Every voter should be on guard,” he said. “Everyone wants to protect their respective ballot."

It appears a lot of people have signed up to track their ballots. According to Alexander, as of this morning 1.6 million Californians have signed up for the ballot tracker service.

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