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.
Common Text Scams
Text message phishing is also known as smishing (from ‘SMS’). With the rise in usage of text messages in our everyday lives and the personal nature of our inbox, smishing can be effective to hackers. Ensure you protect yourself from phishing scams and spot them before it’s too late.
Here are common text scams to look out for:
1. Emergency texts - Scammers may pose as relatives or friends. They will send messages urging you to wire money immediately. These could come in all forms of emergency requests such as bail money or paying a hospital bill. The main goal is to trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam.
2. Unusually long numbers - Text marketing messages that are legitimate are often sent from a 6-digit short code, 10-digit toll-free number, or a local text-enabled business phone. The odds are high that it's a scam if you were to receive a text message from an unidentified number with digits more than 10. You can find out the person/companies names and addresses by using a reverse phone lookup directories available on the internet.
3. Unexpected prizes - One of the most common text scams is messages containing fake prizes or giveaways. You will receive a text informing you that you've won a prize, giveaway, or something of that nature. A hyperlink or reply will be embedded in the text with instructions on how to reach out to claim the reward. This is yet another ploy to obtain your personal information.
4. Fake refunds - These typically come in the form of a "government" agency or monthly billing program (like your cell phone provider) letting you know you were "overcharged". They will ask you to share direct deposit information so a charge can be reversed. If they can secure your routing number information, they can access your account and steal from you.
5. Reactivation messages - These messages usually claim that your account (such as bank account or email) is inactive or has been hacked. You will be instructed to click a link in the text to reactivate it. This could lead you to a fake site where your login credentials may be requested. Fraudulent links could also infect your phone with malware.
6. Government messages - You may or may not have opted to receive government messages on your phone. Whichever is the case, you're more likely to click a link or respond to these messages. Regardless, always remember to never give out your details. Government agencies seldom initiate contact via phone or text. They typically use formal channels to convey national announcements.
7. 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. Professional institutions rarely request personal information via text. Do not reveal your PIN, password, or any other piece of information that could compromise your accounts.
8. Misspellings or poor grammar -Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are tell-tale signs. Pay attention to how you are addressed as well, instead of ‘sir’ they may use ‘madam’ for example.
9. Irrelevant messages - These are identifiable junk texts. They offer ludicrous offers and may push claims that you are subscribed to them when you have never opted into their subscriptions.
10. Fake websites - Pay attention to site domains if you happen to receive a URL to click on. Genuine companies make an effort to have a legitimate-looking website with features like trust seals and their brand logo. You should also look out for whether there are any grammatical errors.
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.
Here are a few ways to recognize and handle text 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 or block the sender - If you have received what you believe to be a fake text message report it to the company who allegedly sent you the message. This especially works for organizations that are already in existence like banks. This will cause them to alert other users to the risks. Take note that most organizations have a dedicated email address for you to report potential scams to. Lastly, block the number from your phone.
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 a random number sends an SMS request for money, promptly block and report the number.
Avoid clicking links and press ‘delete’ - The most important thing you can do is to 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 protect your device from crashing. These will protect you if you end up on a fake website that’s trying to harvest your information.
These days everything is just one click away on our mobile phones. You should be alert every time you receive a strange SMS. Knowledge is your greatest defense against unscrupulous scammers. Even though text message scams are far less common than other digital tactics, the fallout from them can be just as devastating.
Emily Andrews is the marketing communications specialist at RecordsFinder, an online public records search company. Communications specialist by day and community volunteer at night, she believes in compassion and defending the defenceless.