Text message scams have become common with the proliferation of smartphones. These types of scams occur when criminals use fraudulent text messages to lure individuals into providing their personal or financial information. Once this is done, they will do whatever they can to defraud victims of their hard-earned money.

In this article, we will share some fake spam text message examples with you and help you learn how you can protect yourself against the many serious risks and threats they bring.

A note on scam vs spam text messages

Before we get into the details of the different types of common text scams, it's important to shed some light on the difference between scam texts and spam texts.

Scam texts are sent to you in the hopes that you will fall for the sender's trick or trap and end up suffering a personal loss. Fake scam messages are often sent by seasoned criminals looking to cause substantial harm to their victims.

Spam texts, on the other hand, can be absolutely harmless. The term is generally used to describe a situation where you might be receiving an excessive number of unsolicited text messages, whether from individuals or businesses. They could be sent by the same or different senders. One common type of SMS spamming is telemarketer text messages marketing some product or service. The most damage spam texts can do is annoy you or hog storage space on your mobile phone.

To keep things simple in this article, though, we might end up using 'scam' and 'spam' interchangeably to refer to the former.

Common text scams and how to identify them

We're here to help you make sure that you protect yourself from fake text messages and are able to spot them before it's too late. Here are 14 common text scams to look out for.

Smartphone displaying error message

1. SMS phishing

Text message phishing is also known as smishing (combining ‘SMS' and 'phishing'). In text phishing scams, the sender pretends to be a trusted business or individual and tries to trick the recipient into sharing sensitive information, such as a 2FA OTP, personal or account information, or bank details. With the rise in the usage of text messages in our everyday lives and the personal nature of our SMS inboxes, phishing text messages have proved to be very effective for hackers and other cybercriminals.

2. Emergency texts

Some text scammers may pose as relatives or close friends. They will send fake messages urging you to wire money immediately. These could come in all forms of emergency requests, such as posting bail money or paying a hospital bill. The main goal of the emergency contact scam is to pressure you into sending money before you realize what's going on. The sense of urgency that they create is what this type of scam message is dependent on.

3. Imposters spam texting from unusually long numbers

Text marketing messages that are legitimate are often sent from a 6-digit short code, a 10-digit toll-free number, or a local text-enabled business phone. So the odds are high that it's an SMS scam if you were to receive a text message from an unidentified number with digits more than 10. You can find out the sender's name and address by using reverse phone lookup directories available on the internet.

4. Unexpected prizes

One of the most common text scams is messages containing fake prizes or giveaways. You will receive a text message saying you won something, like a free gift, prize, giveaway, or something of that nature. A reply or hyperlink will be embedded in the text with instructions on how to reach out to claim the reward. This is yet another SMS phishing ploy to obtain your personal information.

5. Fake refunds

These text messaging scams typically come in the form of a "government" agency or monthly billing program (like your cell phone provider) letting you know you were overcharged for something. They will then ask you to share your direct deposit information so that the charge can be reversed. If they can secure your routing number information, they can access your account and steal from you.

6. Reactivation messages

These messages usually claim that your account (such as a bank account or an email account) has been labeled inactive and scheduled for shutdown or has been hacked. You will be instructed to click a link in the text to restart activity or reset your password to regain access. This could lead you to a fake site where your login credentials may be requested. Fraudulent links in smishing scam text messages could also infect your phone with malware.

7. Government messages

You may or may not have opted to receive government messages on your phone. Regardless, you're quite likely to click on a link or respond to such a message due to the authority and trust generally associated with public organizations. Regardless, always remember to never give out any sensitive details. Government agencies seldom use text to initiate contact for critical or private discussions. They also typically use more formal channels to convey national announcements.

8. Personal information requests

A clear red flag is a request for your personal information. Real messages from legit companies will usually address you by your full name spelled correctly. Professional institutions rarely request personal information via text. Do not reveal your PIN, password, social security number, account number, banking information, or any other piece of info that could compromise any of your email, bank, social or other accounts. Any such requests should be instantly identified as fake scam texts; otherwise, you could fall victim to scams such as identity theft and financial fraud.

9. Texts with misspellings or poor grammar

Looking out for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors is one of the best ways you can learn how to identify a fake text message. Pay attention to how you are addressed as well. For example, if you're sure that the sender knows your preferred pronouns, a text from them shouldn't use the wrong pronouns, like using 'sir' instead of 'ma'am', or vice versa.

10. Fake subscription text

These are easily identifiable junk texts. They extend ludicrous offers and may push claims that you are subscribed to them when you likely have never even heard of them, let alone opted into their services or bought anything from them in the past. You should easily be able to tell that these texts are irrelevant to you and thus pay no heed to them.

11. Fake websites

Pay attention to site or domain URLs if you happen to receive a URL in an unknown text message. Genuine companies make an effort to have legitimate-looking websites with features like trust seals and their proper familiar brand logos. You should also look out for whether there are any grammatical errors, typos, or other obvious mistakes in both the website text as well as the scam SMS content. Design inconsistencies are also an obvious sign of a fake website.

Another clue is the security certificate. Any website that doesn't have the 'https://' prefix and has an 'http://' instead is a major red flag because it is either a fake website or a legit site that is vulnerable to all sorts of cybersecurity threats, both of which should be worrisome for you as a customer.

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12. Fake picture text message scam

This is sometimes referred to as the "how are you" text message scam. The sender pretends to be someone you know, such as a friend or relative, and starts the conversation with something as harmless as a "Hello, how are you?" They go so far as to send a picture of said person, all in an attempt to make you believe that they are really the person they are pretending to be. Before you know it, they'll be asking you for a small favor, such as lending them a small amount of money for an emergency, with a promise to return it soon. This has become a more common text message scam in recent years.

13. Postal service text scam

In this type of text message fraud, scammers employ deceptive tactics such as sending fake delivery notice text messages or fake Amazon texts to trick recipients into worrying about an order they might've never placed in the first place.

These fraud text messages often claim common issues that real people could easily run into with their real packages. For example, the "we cannot deliver your package" text message cites a legitimate-sounding reason why delivery is not possible, such as the courier getting the address wrong or you missing the delivery because you couldn't be contacted at the time. 

They then ask you to share your address via text, possibly along with other identification details. Another example is the UPS redelivery fee scam, which tells the recipient that delivery failed once due to XYZ reason, and redelivery requires online payment of a small penalty or fee. Of course, the payment is a disguise for collecting your payment details. The similar "Amazon billing issue" text is also a means to collect details for financial fraud.

You might have also heard of the "order placed" text scam, which convinces victims that an order has been placed using their details. Naturally, fake order confirmation texts can cause panic, leading to the recipient hurriedly clicking on any given links just so they can cancel that order before it's shipped. This can easily be coupled with the online banking alert text scam or even a simple "thank you for your payment" text message. These can get an even quicker reaction out of the customer, who would then scramble to get a refund and have the order canceled ASAP.

14. Text buddy scam

This spam text message example shows how scammers capitalize on people's desire for personal connection as well as their need to earn something through a side gig. As its name suggests, the scammer advertises for a "texting buddy" for money. So, all you have to do is talk, and you'll get paid for it. Sounds ideal, doesn't it? But alas, eventually, the scammer manipulates or sweet-talks you into revealing sensitive personal information to use for hurting you financially or even threatening your security.

These are just some of the most common scam texts that people receive from unknown senders.

So, if you do receive one of these scam text messages, what do you do next?

How to reply to scammer texts

Two words: You don't.

More often than not, the scammer relies on the other person to respond in one way or another. All they need is an opening. Even a one-word reply to a fake scammer message gives them an opportunity to somehow force the conversation further and cleverly steer it in any direction they desire. They could use certain manipulation tactics to extract crucial information from you and use it to deceive or defraud you.

There are other precautions you can take instead. Let's go over some of the better ways you can deal with scams via text message.

How to handle text message scams

In the past, if a company wanted to get in touch, they'd send you a letter or call you. Today there are many ways of being contacted. This has increased the number of channels that scammers can target you through by taking advantage of the anonymity that modern communication methods provide.

Here are a few ways to recognize and handle texting scams.

Check sender information

Pay attention to the phone number the text has been sent from. Find the source of the text through a reverse phone lookup or an online directory. You should be able to authenticate the identity of the sender.

Report the fraudulent text message or block the sender

If you have received what you believe to be a fake text message, report it to the company that allegedly sent you the message. This especially works for organizations that are already in existence, like banks, eCommerce businesses, or even your credit card company. This will cause them to alert other users to the risks, too. Take note that most organizations have a dedicated email address or fraud department where you can report potential SMS scams.

If you receive a suspicious text message on your mobile device, another thing you can do is report the spam text message to 7726. When you report spam text messages, it can help to prevent you from receiving smishing texts or fraudulent phone calls from the unknown sender in the future. It will also alert the carrier, who can then make sure that texts containing similar content, language, or patterns are marked spam for not just you but other users too.

Lastly, block the number from your phone. This will help filter unknown senders and their unwanted texts right off the bat. This is one of the most effective types of SMS scam protection.

Never provide bank information or send money

If a business entity sends you a text that you weren't expecting, call them to verify its authenticity. Check the numbers listed on your bills, cards, or statements. Alternatively, you could look up the number online. It is dangerous to share sensitive personal or financial information by text. If you get a random text message from a stranger requesting money, promptly block and report the number.

Avoid clicking links and press ‘delete'

The most important thing you can do is not click links in suspicious texts or initiate any form of contact with the number. If you do, please make sure to never give out personal details under any circumstances. Keeping your anti-virus software and operating systems up-to-date will prevent your device from crashing. These will also protect you (albeit to a certain extent) if you end up on a fake website that's trying to harvest your information.

Wrapping up

These days, everything is just one click away on our mobile phones. You should be alert every time you receive a weird text message. Knowledge is your greatest defense against unscrupulous scammers. Even though SMS scams may be far less common than other digital crime tactics, the fallout from them can be just as devastating. Armed with the right precautions and contingency plans, you can effectively guard yourself against many different types of fraudulent text message scams and SMS phishing attempts.