We’d all like to believe we know a scam when we see one. You probably think, “that could never happen to me…” but a study by McAfee shows that over 97% of consumers were unable to correctly identify phishing scams when presented with them.
As digital communication has evolved so has the sophistication of hackers and scammers. In addition to phony phone calls and email phishing scams, text scams have become more common with the proliferation of smartphones and the emergence of text messages as a part of everyday communication. This type of fraud is also known as “smishing.”
SMS phishing (aka smishing) is the fraudulent solicitation of your personal information through the use of text messaging. Although far less common than other kinds of digital dupes, smishing can be effective due to the personal nature of our inbox. After all, texts are reserved for close friends, family, and businesses who we have consented to connect with.
So, how can you protect yourself from smishing scams and spot them before it’s too late? We have the low down on all the warning signs as well as what to do if you encounter one.
💡SimpleTexting Tip: To help you out, we have a team dedicated to compliance who monitor messages sent through ST for suspicious activity to ensure our platform is only used for good!
While each text scam looks a little different, there are some common hallmarks of these messages you can look out for that serve as dead giveaways for fraud.
Legitimate marketing text messages are often sent from a 6-digit short code (like 555888), a text-enabled, 10-digit toll-free number (ex: 844-462-2554) or a business’s existing ten-digit landline. If you were to receive a text message from an unidentified 11-digit number, the odds are high that it’s a scam.
So, even if they identify themselves as your bank, realtor, insurance agent, etc. you should look to the number the message was sent from for verification. The potential of this happening is low, but it is still something to be wary of!
The family emergency scam is one of the most common tricks according to the FCC. In this instance, you’ll receive a text message saying something along the lines of “your family member who lives in __ (or is traveling in __) has run into some trouble. They’re in need of financial help and a money transfer is the only way to help them.” In some instances, they can even say that contacting this family member will cause them danger.
These texts can be very frightening, which is why they work. However, before you take any action or send money, take a pause. Attempt to verify the person’s identity by asking questions a stranger couldn’t know the answers to. Reach out to a trusted family member or friend to verify the scammer’s story (even if they say to keep it a secret). And always feel free to call 1-877-FTC-HELP for advice.
Another common smishing scam comes not in the form of asking for money, but in claiming money is owed to you. A fake refund often comes from a “government” agency or monthly billing program (like your cell phone provider) letting you know you were “overcharged”. Oftentimes they will direct you to share direct deposit information so a charge can be reversed. In this case, once they secure your routing number, they can access your account and steal from you.
These scams tend to look innocent on the surface. They generally say something along the lines of “your [email, text, app] password has been [comprised, used with another device, hacked]. Your account has been deactivated for your protection. Text XXXXX to reactivate your account.” In the case of these messages, simply delete the messages (and report them). Do NOT reply or send passwords. Simply check the accounts in question. When you see they haven’t been deactivated you’ll have your answer.
Another one of the most common text scams is also the simplest. Recipients receive a text informing them that they’ve won a prize, giveaway, or something of that nature. Through either a hyperlink or reply they’re instructed to reach out to claim the reward. However, this is yet another ploy to receive your personal information.
In this case, if you did not enter to win anything, ignore the message. If you’re not sure if you did (let’s face it, we all enter contests hoping for something every now and then) reach out to the brand on their verified website or social media pages to double check.
If you “fall” for a text scam, know that you’re not alone. Last year 47,567 different scams were added to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker, with numerous victims for each new plot.
The good news is, the worst-case scenario is not always the most common. Just because you’ve sent money to a scammer doesn’t mean that tomorrow you’ll be homeless and penniless. The important thing is to realize your mistake and act as quickly as you can.
Once you’ve taken these precautions, the FTC warns of a few possible outcomes from the scam:
If you’re looking to “can the spam” when you receive it and end the smishing scam for good, there are a few things you can do:
The silver smishing line in all of this remains: text message scams are far less common that other digital tactics.
Always remember that knowledge is your greatest defense against scams. For a comprehensive list of the most popular scams and frauds in the US, check out this government developed guide.
If you’re interested however in what is legal to text, feel free to explore our SMS compliance guide, which explains the far more common, legal world of texting marketing.