Instead of all of these Automatic calls, you may find that your mobile phone has become the target of spam text messages. And just like automated calls, these texts and robot texts are becoming the preferred means of scammers looking to infect your phone, steal your information and take your money. In fact, it even has a name: smishing.
The IRS recently issued an alert urging taxpayers to remain vigilant after noting an exponential increase in the number of IRS-themed smishing incidents. “Scam messages often appear to come from the IRS and offer lures such as fake COVID relief, tax credits, or help setting up an IRS online account,” the agency reported.
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“This is industrial-scale phishing, so thousands of people could be at risk of receiving these fraudulent messages,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “In recent months, the IRS has reported several large-scale smishing campaigns that have delivered thousands — and even hundreds of thousands — of IRS-related messages within hours to a few days, far exceeding previous levels of activity.”
Amy Nofziger, director of fraud victim support at AARP, said spam texts are a powerful tool for scammers. “Criminals know that most Americans carry their devices with them at all times and are constantly engaged with their technology, so their chances of securing their next victim with a text message are high,” Nofziger said. “When people receive a message, they often take a quick look and prioritize their response time. Scammers know this and use highly emotive language to get their target’s attention, words like “immediately, quickly, at risk,” so many unsuspecting victims quickly follow instructions without doing much research.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, 2022 is on track to be the first year when more people report being contacted by scammers via text message than phone calls.
Corresponding Robkiller (opens in new tab), the call-blocking app, Americans received 15.6 billion spam text messages in September, nearly 57 spam text messages for every person in the United States. As the company puts it, “Spam SMS is the new spam call.”
The company says Americans received 87.8 billion spam text messages in 2021, compared to 72 billion spam calls. In the previous year, 55.5 billion spam SMS were compared to around 54.5 billion calls.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, “Complaints about unwanted text messages have risen steadily in recent years, from about 5,700 in 2019 to
14,000 in 2020, 15,300 in 2021 to 8,500 by June 30, 2022.”
According to the FTC, scammers use spam texts to trick people into giving the scammers personal information such as passwords, account numbers, and social security numbers. They either use this information to gain access to your financial accounts and emails, or they sell the information to other scammers.
Scammers also try to trick you into clicking links in text messages by promising things like prizes, gift cards, or coupons. They may offer interest-free or interest-free credit cards or promise to help pay off student loans. They might say they’ve noticed suspicious activity on your account, or send you a fake invoice asking you to contact them if you’re not authorized to make a purchase.
How text fraud works
Nofziger gave the following examples of people reporting problems with text to AARP:
- A consumer received a text message claiming that $983 had been charged to their PayPal account and that a credit card application had been submitted on their behalf and that additional fees had been incurred. The consumer has downloaded the AnyDesk screen sharing service and granted access to their device. He later deleted it and changed his banking passwords.
- One caller reported that she received a text message from someone claiming to be from the post office and the caller gave the text message caller bank details.
- A consumer received an SMS asking if she had bought a mobile phone. The text appears to be from Amazon. She was instructed to call a number, and when she did, someone claiming to be from Chase Bank’s fraud division answered. This person informed her that her account had been hacked and tricked her into transferring $67,500 to a cryptocurrency account.
- One caller reported receiving a text message from the bank saying fraudulent activity was taking place on his account. He called the fraud hotline and when he called them, he saw that $3,000 had been taken from his account. He challenged the action and a few days later it happened again. He has been fighting Bank of America for over 2 months over the $6,000 wrongfully debited from his account. He has since withdrawn all but $100 from Bank of America and opened a new account at another bank. He no longer does online banking or purchases to protect his money.
- A caller received a text message that she mistook for a wrong number. The lyricist requested a vet appointment for her dog. When the victim replied that the texter had the wrong number and hoped her dog would be better, a conversation started. The caller ended up sending $10,000 to the scammer’s crypto account in what turned out to be a scam and lost the $10,000 list
That Better business office warns against the last trick: the wrong number text. The BBB explains it this way: “You get a text that goes something like, ‘Hey, is that John? It’s Amanda. We chatted on Tinder before when I was visiting my cousin, but we never met. I’m back in town if you want to meet up this time, do you have time?'”
You may be tempted to reply to the text and tell the sender that they received the wrong number. This rewards the scammer who will make an effort to keep the conversation going. They might send you a few compliments or a few photos of “Amanda” who happens to be scantily clad. The stories will change to encourage you to respond.
“If you keep engaging with the stranger, who is actually a chatbot, he’ll try to get you to sign up for dating or adult websites,” The BBB warns. “Your new ‘friend’ will encourage you to log on to a particular website to see more explicit photos, which may involve giving out your credit card number. Given the dubious nature of this scam, if you disclose your credit card information at any point, you could put yourself at risk for fraudulent charges and identity theft.”
Another AARP caller reported receiving a text message claiming to be from the US Postal Service. The caller sent this texter bank details. The Post has issued its own warning against such texts and encourages you to report such smash attempts firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to avoid being scammed via text
The FCC and FTC offer the following advice to protect yourself:
- Don’t respond to suspicious messages, even if the message asks you to send “STOP” to end messages.
- Don’t click on links you get in text.
- Do not share information via text or website.
- Forward unwanted SMS to SPAM (7726).
- Delete all suspicious SMS.
- If you think a text message may be legitimate, contact the company using a phone number or website that you know is genuine, rather than the information in the text.
- The wireless industry has a website, CTIA.org, that offers options from various wireless carriers and third-party providers. According to the website, major wireless carriers offer several tools and solutions that you can activate or integrate with your device to block or flag calls: AT&T Call Protect (opens in new tab); Verizon call filter (opens in new tab); T-mobile scam id, scam blocking, name id (opens in new tab); US Cellular Call Guardian.
- Update your smart device operating system and security apps.
- Consider installing anti-malware software.
- Read the companies’ policies regarding turning off text notifications and selling/sharing your
- Check the text-blocking tools in your phone settings, available third-party apps, and your carrier’s offers.
- Report fraud via SMS to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.