Smishing 101: Steps to Help Better Detect and Avoid Text Message Scams

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Fraudulent bank text messages are one of the most common types of scams, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). In this con, scammers send text messages that look like they come from a bank—maybe even your bank—with the excuse that your accounts are locked or that your account is about to be charged unless you click or call. Do you know how to detect this scam so you have a better chance of avoiding it?

Text Message Scams aka Smishing

Text message scams are often called “smishing”–a blend of the terms SMS (Short Message Service) and phishing. While phishing typically refers to scams sent by email, smishing scams are sent by text message.

A typical smishing scam may look like this: You receive a text message from a bank saying that there is a problem with your account. The message conveniently provides a link or phone number to help you resolve the issue.

If you take the bait by responding, clicking, or calling, that’s when scammers get to work. They may install malware on your device, lead you to a well-disguised website where you enter your information and unknowingly send it to the scammer, or sell your information for use in future scams.

Other versions of smishing could be a message that says your credit card or bank account is about to be charged for an upcoming payment unless you reply. Or a message that someone is attempting to make a charge on your account, and you must speak with the security department to verify the transaction.

Smishing Victims Could Face Financial Loss

Unfortunately, some victims of smishing face real financial losses.

Customers of Ohio-based Fifth Third Bank were hit by a bank text scam in May 2018. Scammers sent text messages to bank customers claiming that the victim’s account had been locked. When the victim clicked on the link provided in the message, they were taken to a fake website that mimicked the bank’s actual site and were then prompted to enter their account credentials in order to “unlock” their account.

The scammers were able to collect login credentials from 125 of the bank’s customers and used the information to collect $68,000 in less than two weeks.

Avoid Getting Smished

You can take steps to help you detect smishing attempts and better protect yourself and your loved ones:

  • Don’t Reply, Click, or Call. Never click links, reply to text messages, or call phone numbers that you don’t recognize. Although some smishing messages give you the option to text the word “STOP” to get off the list, don’t even text “STOP.” Responding only serves to let the scammers know that the number is in service and that you are a potential target.
  • Validate Suspicious Messages with the Actual Company. If you get a text message claiming to be from a bank, retailer, or government agency, call or email them yourself to confirm the contents of the text. Get the organization’s official contact information from past statements or through an online search.
  • Block and Report Spammers and Scammers. If you repeatedly receive suspicious messages, you can block and report the number. Most smartphones have an option to block callers, and regardless of what device or carrier you use, you should be able to forward spam text messages to SPAM (7726). Most carriers participate in a service that tries to block future spammers by referencing phone numbers previously reported by consumers.
  • Validate Requests from Family and Friends. We’ve all had requests from family or friends who need information in a hurry. If friends or family request personal or financial information, make sure that you’re actually talking with your loved one. In addition, instead of sending information through text message or email, it’s best practice to provide the information verbally, so there’s no written record in case of a lost or stolen device.
  • Never Install Apps from a Link Sent to You. No matter who the message comes from, never install apps from a link provided in an unexpected text message. A quick internet search can help you make sure you are installing apps from an official source.
  • Keep Devices and Apps Up-to-date. Make sure you update your devices and apps to the latest version. Consider installing anti-malware software on your devices for extra security.

Report Fraudulent Texts and Calls

If you believe you have received a fraudulent or illegal text or call, you can file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC also provides a consumer guide to help avoid unsolicited calls and texts.

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