SMS scams are on the rise with an increase of 146% in 2020. Here we share what to look out for and how to protect yourself from these scams.
What is an SMS Scam?
SMS scams, also known as ‘smishing’ is when hackers can access personal information via text message fraud. By sending a text message, cyber criminals are able to convince victims into revealing personal data or can install malware on their phones.
In general, these are seemingly innocuous text messages which include a link to a website or phone number which seem legitimate. Once the recipient clicks on the link or the phone number, this can then be an opportunity for the hackers to obtain more data.
These seemingly unassuming text messages can be the chance for hackers to access your credit card information, address or social security numbers and can have devastating effects.
In 2020, these scam tests cost Americans a staggering $86 million with an increase of 146% (YOY) of complaints about scam text messages.
Ways to Identify Scam Messages
The trouble with scam messages is that they are becoming increasingly sophisticated and thus difficult to detect. However, there are a few ways of identifying scam messages if you receive a suspicious text.
- Random Prizes
One of the most common text scams is a text which is offering you a free prize, be it a specific such as a TV or car or cash. However, in order to claim the “prize”, you will usually be asked to give your bank details or another form of personal information.
Whilst there are legitimate prizes and sweepstakes offered via text marketing, always be wary of this type of text, especially for contests that you have not entered. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If in doubt, look up the company online to see if the contest is legitimate or not and ask for a form of verification.
- Long Phone Numbers
If a text message is legitimate, even if you do not recognise the sender, the phone number should appear normal (i.e. correct number of digits). If you get a text from a number that has too many digits, it is probably safe to assume that this is a form of text scam.
This is a fairly unsophisticated form of text scam and therefore does not happen often, but it is an easy one to spot. If you sense that there is something wrong with the number, do not reply to it.
- Text Refund
A common form of text scam is text to inform you that you have been overcharged for a service – typically, this is a phone service provider. As the majority of people will have a contracted service, it can be easy to falsely assume that these texts are legitimate. In general, these messages will offer to refund you if you provide your details.
If you fall for this trick and send your bank details, the scammer will have direct access to your bank account and be able to steal from you. In general, you should never send banking information through an insecure medium.
What Not To Do If You Suspect a Text Scam
There are a few best practices recommended by cybersecurity experts that can help you protect yourself from suspected text scams.
- Do Not Reply Directly To Spam Text Messages
This may seem obvious but due to the sophistication of some of the scams, it can be an easy mistake. If you reply to a spam text message, it confirms to the hacker that your number is genuine. This means that your number can be passed on to other spammers who will continue to try and trick you into handing over your details under some guise or other.
- Never Send Your Personal Information Over Text
The main purpose of spam text messages is to lure the recipient into disclosing personal information. As a general rule of thumb, legitimate companies never request personal information via text message so if you receive a text requesting this, you should already be on guard.
If the text seems legitimate, look up the company and contact them via phone in order to see if the text is what it seems. However, if you want to contact the company do not do it via the sender number in the text message.
- Do Not Click Any Links In The Text Message
Clicking on the link in a spam text message could be a hacker’s way of installing malware onto your phone which can quickly collect personal information. Even if these sites look real, they are specifically designed to fool the recipient.
Malware can have many different effects including slowing down the performance of your phone or taking up valuable space on your phone memory. The spammer can collect your information and sell it on to marketers or cybercriminals. In addition, they could rack up additional fees on your mobile phone bill.
How to Check that a Company is Safe to Use
When it comes to using a financial product, the best thing you can do is check the FCA register and type in the company name. This will confirm whether the company is legitimate and authorised to offer their services, but also if they are currently the victim of impersonation, scams or cloning and what you should be aware of. When regulated and authorised, you are on the right track that it is a company that is safe to use.
In addition, you can search for the company on Google and see if there are any warning signs, since any scams are often reported on forums, people mention things on social media or there is a trail of bad reviews. If anything does not look right, this could be a reason to stay clear.
Finally, you could always just go to the official website and call the number provided. With a clear number and business address, these are also signs that it is a legitimate provider.
What You Can Do To Protect Yourself
Luckily, there are simple measures you can take to protect yourself from these types of scams.
- Check Your Settings
The majority of modern phones have built-in features which can help to block unwanted calls and texts. If you search ‘block’ on your phone, there is probably a feature which enables you to block calls and texts from particular numbers if you sense that they are suspicious.
Some providers offer a specific call-blocking service which can block unknown numbers from calling you for a specific period of time. There are also apps and services specifically designed for call-blocking which can also work to block spam texts.
- Review Your Mobile Phone Bill Regularly
In general, you should regularly check your phone bill to ensure that your provider is charging you the correct amount. If there are any suspicious looking fees, you should call your provider immediately to check if your phone is receiving or sending spam messages.