Sunday, April 11, 2021

Guide to Text Message Scams

tactics of text message scammers

Everyone knows about phishing; the rise of email scams was hard for anyone to miss! However, scammers are catching up with the times. To stay safe, you’ll have to keep up, too. Did you know that scammers are now finding new victims through text messages?

Here are some of their tactics, what to watch out for, and how to keep your phone secure.

Types of Scams

Start with a basic definition of phishing. Phishing occurs when someone tries to get you to reveal sensitive information using technology. The person may use email, social media, instant message, and even chat rooms.

Smishing, however, is any kind of phishing that occurs using text message, or SMS. It’s particularly dangerous, because many people believe text messages are more secure than email. Thus, they’re more likely to trust a text they receive from a number purporting to be their bank, for example, or service provider. While most people have been socialized to be careful on their desktops, they tend to use phones in a more relaxed way and aren’t on guard for suspicious activity.

Scammers’ use of smishing is increasing: Kaspersky Labs reported that the occurrence of mobile ransomware attacks, usually carried out through smishing, rose 250% from January to September of 2017.

What Scammers Are After

Smishers can be after any number of things, including your bank account and routing numbers, your social security number, your usernames and passwords, and more. This information can help them apply for credit in your name, access your bank or other accounts, make purchases with your money and, at worst, steal your identity.

That’s why it’s essential to stop them in their tracks. These scams can literally ruin your life. In one recent case, three men confessed to a smishing and vishing (voice phishing) scheme that netted them $21 million. It’s nobody’s dream to become a footnote in a case like this.

What to Watch For

Smishers do a few different things that can give them away. Be wary if an unknown number does any of the following:

  • Requests you click a link, which could download spyware onto your phone
  • Wants you to call a number to provide information
  • Asks you to send sensitive information through text
  • Threatens you with extra fees or other consequences if you don’t do what they’re asking right away
  • Uses a logo or name that appears slightly different from the one that’s usually used

Watch, too, for what’s called URL padding. Text messages will cut off if they become too long, requiring you to click to read the full message. A URL is typically padded using hyphens that prevent the receiver from viewing the entire link without clicking to see it. Smishers use this tactic to avoid showing the true source of the site in the initial view of the text, thus discouraging suspicion.

Even if you believe the number may belong to your bank or some other legitimate organization, you should take steps to confirm it. It’s also worth noting that, even if the unknown messenger claims to be someone in particular (“Hey, it’s Steve! Remember me?”), you shouldn’t click anything in those messages, nor should you respond.

The holidays especially are a popular time for smishing. They can play on your financial worries or even your spirit of giving.

Smishers can also pretend to be technologically challenged relatives (Aunt Susan linking you to a family Facebook album?). Or they could fabricate stories that tug at your heartstrings to result in successful scams.

Remember, scammers know how to get you to trust them. And there are no reliable spam filters for text. That means your caution is the only thing standing between you and a scammer. As such, this is one situation in which you should always take extra precautions, no matter how much you may trust the messenger.

How to Stay Safe

The number one thing to remember is to avoid doing whatever any unknown message is asking of you, until you’ve confirmed the message’s origin. Don’t click links, call numbers, or send any information, even if you’re being told you’ll face consequences otherwise. Remember that any legitimate organization would attempt to contact you in multiple ways, likely including snail mail, before hitting you with extra fees or other troubles.

Verify Legitimacy with PeopleFinders

When faced with an uncertain situation, you can always use PeopleFinders’ reverse phone lookup to try and verify the identity of your mystery messenger. If it turns out the text was legitimate, there’s no skin off your nose. If it wasn’t, you’ve just avoided some disastrous consequences.

Even better, PeopleFinders’ people search can make it difficult for scammers to successfully hide behind a false alias. You can easily double-check numbers, names and other information they provided to try and see if it’s valid, or if the details match up.

For more ideas on how to protect yourself against scammers, try the PeopleFinders blog.

Image attribution: fizkes –

PeopleFinders was launched in 1999 to give people easy access to public records data. The PeopleFinders mission is to find, organize and make information accessible - empowering people with meaningful answers.

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