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Text Message Scam: How To Deal With Suspicious SMS

Text Message Scam: How To Deal With Suspicious SMS

Renata Liubertaitė

We all have come across various scams in one way or another – be it a poorly written email or a suspicious phone call. We also like to think we are so used to these attempts that we will see through them and be safe.

However, phishing schemes, or cyber-attack schemes, are becoming much more sophisticated. One of the tricks up scammers’ sleeves is sending people SMS spam or in other words, text message phishing – smishing.

When it comes to scam text messages, it can be a bit trickier to see through the deceit at first as these schemes are relying on tactics known to work for SMS – accessibility, high open rates and engagement, personal approach, and a sense of urgency. Moreover, as for SMS, less than 3% of messages are considered spam, we really aren't used to unwanted messages.

So let’s dig into some deceitful SMS tactics that are widely-used, find out how to recognize and fight text message scam, and prevent your business SMS from appearing as one.

Zoom in on smartphone screen displaying text message scam

How to avoid falling victim to text message scam?

If something that is offered seems too good to be true, it quite often is. So the first thing to do is stay alert. Keep reading to find some spam text messages examples below.

1. Don’t send out any personal details

Be very cautious when someone, even if supposedly a known source, asks for personal information, such as your passwords, account number, or your social security number. This information is a shortcut to accessing your email and social media accounts as well as bank accounts.

To get you on the hook, smishers use many tactics:

  • Claim you’ve been overcharged for a service, offering you a return.
  • Offer you a part of a great investment.
  • Promise free products or coupons.
  • Offer to help you become loan-free or even offer to pay off your loans.

2. Think twice before you act

As mentioned previously, one of the tactics used for phishing is creating a sense of urgency via SMS messages. They push you to make up your mind fast. And it might easily work as people are so used to being very responsive to SMS messages and tend to act without thinking – SMS campaigns usually get a response only in 90 seconds.

To create a sense of urgency scammers might:

  • Claim there has been suspicious activity on your account, usually asking you to click on a link to change your password ASAP.
  • Say there is a problem with your payment information and if you do not send updated details of your credit cards, your certain accounts will be permanently closed.
  • Send you a fake invoice that has been overdue asking you to click a link to see the details.
  • Send you a fake delivery notification either asking for your personal information to finalize the order or click on a link to find more information.

Quite often, the links provided in a text scam will redirect you to a website that might look like it’s real. If you try to log in, they will be able to save your username, email address and passwords, which will help them to gain access to your accounts.

Such links may also install malware on your device. Such malware will keep working in the background, stealing your personal data.

Just like with your computer, you should use an antivirus software to protect your smartphone. This will reduce the odds that even if you happen to click on a suspicious link, nothing harmful will be downloaded to your device. Check out free antivirus software, such as BitDefender, Avast, Avira, etc.

How to react if you've received a message from an unknown source?

Spam text messages examples: suspicious message on a phone screen

Emails and many messaging apps offer a way to block or flag suspicious messages, unfortunately, SMS doesn’t really come with such an option. So you really need to stand out for yourself and spot spam text messages. Here's how to do it:

  • Never reply to messages if you cannot recognize the number. If you still have a feeling it might be real, try to contact your phone service provider – you might find out some valuable information. If there is no information to be found, delete the message.
  • Never reply to a message or open links if there is no number attached to the message. Sometimes scammers use names of known banks or other service providers to make you believe the message is real.
  • Remember, no genuine company will ask you for sensitive information via SMS message.

However, if you’re still in doubt, look up the company phone number and give them a call. You can find out if they really are looking for such information and if so, what is the reason behind it. However, make sure you look up the company number elsewhere and don’t call directly the number the message was sent from.

TIP: Check for spelling or grammatical errors. If the message is not professional, you can be quite sure it’s a scam message and may proceed to delete it.

What to do if you have fallen victim to a text scam?

Text scam: how to avoid text message phishing scams

We assume we are prepared for dealing with scammers, but as they are becoming more and more sophisticated, there is no guarantee that we won’t become victims of fraud. In fact, in the US, 10% of people fall for some sort of scam or fraud every year.

So what happens when you accidentally fall for text message scam? No need to panic, the most important thing is to catch on early. Now, make sure you protect yourself (and hopefully others) from any further harm.

As the first thing, identify the details that have gotten into the wrong hands and react accordingly:

  • Contact your bank and credit card providers. You can request to cancel your bank cards and get them replaced.
  • Change your passwords. Do not use the same password for all your accounts, it could be very costly! To be extra careful, use 2-way authentication systems.
  • Install or update a free antivirus program on your device. This way, even if you click on a malicious link, you should be safe from any harmful malware installing itself onto your phone.
  • Check on your phone bill regularly to make sure that you are not paying for receiving any expensive text messages.
  • And lastly, find a local fraud reporting system. If you’re in the US, check out Hopefully, this way the scammers won’t find any new people to deceit.

A sidenote for businesses: how to avoid coming off as a scammer

SMS marketing for business: preventing spam text messages

Smishing has indeed become quite a common way to try to scam people. This, however, doesn’t mean that you should back away from SMS marketing yourself because SMS messages can provide a lot of value if used right.

Still, there are a few things you should keep in mind to showcase that your messages are in fact from your brand and not someone trying to steal people’s personal information.

  • Make sure you are familiar with SMS compliance. Your customers have to opt-in before you can start contacting them. Besides following the regulations, your customers will also know they have given their consent to receive messages from you.
  • Identify yourself – besides contributing to showing that this message is not scam or spam, you will help to improve brand awareness.
  • Check your spelling! Grammar mistakes will not only make you look suspicious but will overall be a slippery slope to losing customers.
  • Use personalization – this will show that you truly know your customer and the message is not just sent randomly. However, don’t ever use SMS messages to collect sensitive information about your customers.

Bonus: 4 common spam text messages examples to stay aware of

1. Congratulations, you’ve just won $10.000!

In a competition that you didn’t even enter. That should be your first clue that the message you’ve just got is a classic example of text message phishing. However, if there’s a chance it might be true or you just want to check in, contact a mentioned business to verify before clicking on any links.

2. Your package has arrived - click to complete the delivery

This example of a text scam might be a little trickier since we live in times where e-commerce thrives. Yet, there are usually signs that can indicate the real nature of such a message.

Always pay attention to the sender ID (are you familiar with it?), moreover, think about the content of the text (the intention, grammar, etc.) and examine the link it wants you to follow. Does it sound reasonable? Is there anything suspicious about the link provided? If you have at least the smallest doubt or didn’t recall ordering anything, do not proceed – you might become a victim of a text message scam.

3. Your bank account was temporarily suspended for safety

In this situation, safety is your biggest concern, yet the chances that you might compromise it by following the call to action that comes along with such a message are high. Scammers might use urgency and try to encourage a spontaneous click from the reader. Don’t provide any details that you’re being asked for without reaching out to responsible institution to make sure something like this has actually happened.

4. Your family member needs help

Although many people are familiar with this one, emotions play a huge part here. When you’re told that someone you love might be in danger, unless you send financial help, you don't really question first – it usually comes second, after the instant fear and worry.

Keep a cold head though – the first thing you have to do in a situation like this is try to contact that family member directly before transferring or giving away any money.

The bottom line

Understanding some of the tactics scammers use will help you to detect where the dangers lie and take necessary measures to protect yourself. So if you ever receive an SMS message that looks suspicious, don’t respond or open any links that it contains. Do some research. If there’s no information to be found, there's a chance you've encountered a case of text message scam. Don't forget to report then delete the message and always stay aware.