In the age of digital communication, text message scams are a growing threat that can deceive even some of the most vigilant individuals. Texting is a quick and convenient means of communication, and scammers know it’s hard to ignore a text message. In 2022, text message scams, also known as smishing, amounted to $330 million in theft. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports an average loss of $1,000 per victim—more than twice the losses reported the previous year.
Scammers want to catch you off guard, hoping you’ll respond or react to a quick text message without hesitation. Some scam texts lure you in with good news while others are designed to scare you. Scammers use these tricks to steal your personal info and money. In this blog, we’ll show you how to recognize the different types of text message scams, what to do if you’ve been scammed, how to report spam texts, and effective strategies to protect yourself from falling victim.
What is smishing?
Smishing, a fusion of “SMS” (Short Message Service) and “phishing”, refers to the act of using text messages to deceive recipients into revealing personal information, making payments or downloading malicious content. These phishing text messages often appear to be from legitimate sources, such as banks, government agencies or well-known companies, but they aim to deceive and exploit.
Spam texts are the new spam calls.
Spam text messages have become increasingly common in recent years, and they remain a growing problem. This rise in spam texts can be attributed to several factors, including the ease with which scammers can send mass texts at minimal cost, and the widespread use of mobile devices. You may receive these unsolicited messages because scammers got your phone number from a public directory, a data breach or by randomly generating numbers. Protecting yourself from text scams is just as important as protecting yourself from phone fraud.
Most common types of text message scams.
New scams pop up all the time, such as the wrong number text scam, which seems innocent but could lead to financial loss. Unsuspecting victims who respond to spam texts may unknowingly provide their sensitive data to fraudsters, who can use it for malicious purposes such as identity theft. The most common text scams mimic messages from reputable organizations, including banks and large companies.
Bank fraud scams.
Scammers often pose as banks or credit unions, claiming to be from their “fraud prevention” department. These urgent messages about suspicious account activity or pending transactions instruct you to click a link or call a provided number to verify your identity. They’re hoping to get your Social Security number, bank account details or PIN. Remember, legitimate financial institutions will never request such information through text messages.
Prize scams lure you with the promise of winning a valuable prize or a lottery. These texts often congratulate you on your supposed windfall and instruct you to claim your gift by paying a fee or providing personal information. In reality, there’s no prize, and responding only leads to potential financial losses.
Package delivery scams.
In this type of scam, you receive text messages claiming there’s a problem with your package delivery, often from a well-known courier service. The message urges you to click on a link to resolve the issue. Clicking the link can result in malware installation or phishing attempts aimed at stealing your personal data.
Dream job offers.
Scammers prey on job seekers by sending enticing text messages offering lucrative job opportunities, often with minimal effort. If you express interest, the scammers may request an upfront payment for job-related expenses or ask for personal information for “background checks.”
Fake Amazon alerts.
Fraudsters also impersonate Amazon by sending fake text messages about problems with a recent purchase, account verification or a pending delivery. Clicking on provided links can lead to phishing websites that aim to steal your Amazon login credentials and personal information.
How to identify a text message scam.
Recognizing a text message scam is the first line of defense. Be on the lookout for common red flags such as:
- Unfamiliar senders and numbers: Be cautious of texts from random numbers and unknown senders.
- Urgent or threatening language: Scammers often create a sense of urgency or fear to manipulate recipients.
- Spelling and grammar errors: Legitimate organizations usually maintain professionalism in their communications. (Side note: the rise of Artificial Intelligence content generation software has enabled scammers to produce much more polished messages.)
- Request for information or money: Be wary of messages requesting personal data or financial transactions.
- Request to update information: Legitimate organizations rarely ask for sensitive information via text.
- Out-of-the-blue communication: If you weren’t expecting a message from a particular sender, exercise caution.
Remember, if something seems unusual about an unexpected request via text, it’s worth taking a moment to evaluate the content and context, and use common sense. Identifying red flags in a message is the first step in protecting yourself against scams.
How to protect yourself against smishing.
To shield yourself from text message scams, consider the following precautions:
- Verify sources: If you receive a suspicious text, independently verify the sender’s legitimacy through official channels.
- Avoid clicking on links: Refrain from clicking on links in suspicious texts, as they may lead to malicious websites or trigger downloads of malware.
- Don’t respond: Avoid engaging with scammers, as responding confirms the validity of your phone number. They’ll just keep calling, or sell your information to other bad actors.
- Secure devices and accounts: Keep your devices and online accounts secure with strong passwords and two-factor authentication.
- Block scammers: Take advantage of the security features offered by your device and mobile carrier to block texts and spam calls, and add your number to the national Do Not Call list.
Remaining vigilant and taking steps to identify and report fraud and scams can keep you secure.
What happens if I already responded to a spam text?
If you suspect you’ve fallen victim to a text message scam or have already responded to one, take immediate action:
- Cease communication: Even if you’ve already responded to the scam text, discontinue all further communication immediately.
- Alert your bank or credit card company: If the scammer was posing as a legitimate organization, contact them to be sure your account is secure.
- Change passwords: Change the passwords for any affected accounts to prevent unauthorized access.
- Contact authorities: Report the scam to your local law enforcement and relevant authorities.
- Monitor your accounts: Keep a close eye on your financial and online accounts for any unusual activity. Consider activating a credit freeze if you’ve divulged personal information.
Scammers are experts at what they do, using a variety of tricks to get people to send money or reveal personal information. It’s important to remember that if you become a victim of these text scams, you’re not alone.
How do I report text message spam?
Reporting text message spam is essential to combat these scammers. You can report spam texts to your mobile carrier by forwarding the message to a designated number or contacting customer support. Many devices, such as iPhones, will automatically provide a “Report Junk” link to flag the message for your carrier.
Additionally, you can report spam texts to the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov or by forwarding the message to 7726 (SPAM).
Safeguarding yourself from scam texts.
Text message scams pose a significant threat in today’s digital landscape. However, with knowledge and vigilance, you can protect yourself from falling victim to these deceptive practices. Remember to stay cautious, report suspicious texts, and share this information with friends and family to create a safer online community.