Ways to Spot a Text Message Scam
Updated: October 26, 2023
If you have a cell phone, it’s likely that you’ve received a text message at some point from a strange, unknown phone number. It’s possible that text message was from a scammer trying to steal your money or personal information. As more people use their phones to shop, check email, access their bank accounts, and more, text message scams have become increasingly common. So how can you protect yourself? Your first weapon of defense is knowing what to look out for when you receive an unsolicited text message.
So, what exactly is a text message scam?
A text message scam, known as smishing, is a tactic scammers use to steal your money and personal information. Scammers use convincing text messages impersonating a legitimate business, financial institution, or government agency to entice you to click a link and provide your personal information. They can spoof legitimate phone numbers for that business as well, so it looks like it's the actual business contacting you. If you receive this type of text and click on the link, it may infect your device with malware or a virus that steals the information and data stored on your device. In addition, responding to these unsolicited text messages by calling the number or replying to the message, may also lead to your personal information being compromised.
Here are a few common examples of text scams and tips on how to spot them.
Suspicious Account Activity Texts.
Example: “AllSouth FCU: We’ve detected suspicious activity on your account ending in 1234. Please call us at 803-123-1234 immediately.”
Sometimes, financial institutions will send legitimate texts alerting their customers of fraud (We do!), but it’s also a tactic scammers have started using to steal your personal information. So, before you react to an alarming text like this, it’s important to take a closer look at the text to determine if it’s real.
In this case, pay attention to a few things. First, do you have an account with the institution sending the text? If you don’t have a relationship with the institution the text is claiming to be sent from, don’t respond and delete the message. The text may also include misspellings or use words such as “immediately” or “urgent” to entice you to react quickly. These are also red flags.
If the text message looks legitimate, but you’re still not sure, call your financial institution to confirm. It’s essential to verify that the phone number you’re calling is actually your financial institution’s phone number by checking their website.
Recently, we’ve been made aware of text message and phone calls where the scammer poses as AllSouth. The text message or phone call appears to come from AllSouth and requests your personal information or a security code, but it’s actually a scammer that’s spoofing our number so it looks legitimate. Remember, we will never call, text, or email requesting that you provide your personal information or a security code.
Payment Information Problem Texts.
“We had an issue processing your payment. Please update your billing information: example.com/1234”
Receiving a text message that a recent payment you made didn’t go through can also be alarming. Unfortunately, this is another example of a text message that scammers may use to steal your personal information.
By clicking on the link, your device may be infected by malware that steals personal data stored on your device. Therefore, it’s essential to look closely at the URL or web address included in the text. If the URL consists of random letters, numbers, and misspellings, be cautious. It may also send you to a fake site where you could be prompted to enter your personal information.
If you’re concerned that a recent payment of yours actually didn’t go through, it’s best to call the company using the phone number you have from a statement or their website to confirm.
Random Free Gift Texts.
“You’ve been selected to receive a $1,000 gift card. Respond now to claim.”
Who hasn’t dreamed about winning a grand prize? Unfortunately, scammers know this and will try to prey on people’s vulnerability to get their money or personal information.
If you respond to a text like this, the scammers may then give instructions for claiming the fake prize or refund. They may even ask you to send money or your account information to redeem your winnings, which you’ll never receive. So if it sounds too good to be true or if something doesn’t seem quite right, don’t respond. It’s most likely a scam.
Failed Package Delivery Notification Texts.
"The USPS package has arrived at the warehouse and cannot be delivered due to incomplete address information. Please confirm your address in the link within 12 hours."
These types of text messages are designed to get people to share their personal information, such as their address. While the Postal Service does offer tools to track your packages, you must register online for those services. Even if you didn’t make a recent purchase, these texts are enticing enough to make you click to see if maybe you actually did purchase something you forgot about. If you aren’t expecting a package, you certainly shouldn’t click the link or respond to the message.
If you are, here are a few more questions you can ask yourself to determine if it’s an actual text message. Does the order number or tracking number provided match the information in your order confirmation email that you received when you placed your order? Did you register online for mobile tracking updates? Are there other ways – by not clicking the link – to check to see if your package is on its way? Many times, legitimate companies will provide a tracking link in an email as well. Overall, it’s best not to click on any links from unknown numbers.
Ways to protect yourself from being scammed by text.
- Check with your mobile provider about how to block an unwanted number from your phone. You could also use a call-blocking app to prevent unwanted calls.
- Don’t click on any attachments or links you’re unfamiliar with. If you receive a text from a friend with a link or an attachment, check with them before opening it to make sure the message and link are trustworthy.
- Be extra cautious. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.
- Don’t give any financial or personal information by call, text, or email without confirming that the business is real and trustworthy.
- Scammers operate with a sense of urgency. They will pressure you to act fast to avoid further action or claim a winning prize.
- Take notice of the grammar and misspelled words. If the message is poorly written with typos, that’s a red flag.
- Change your passwords regularly on apps that have your personal information.
- Delete the suspicious message entirely from your phone.
- Ignore irrelevant messages. If you receive random or unsolicited text messages, investigate them before you open them. It’s probably a scam.
- Keep your anti-virus software updated on your mobile devices.
- Take notice of the number of digits in the phone number. Most legitimate phone numbers have ten digits.
What to do if you become a victim?
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
- Check with your mobile provider to find out how to block and filter suspicious numbers from contacting you.
- You can register your number with the National Do Not Call Registry to opt-out of receiving telemarketing calls.
Now that you know more about the various text scams and how to protect yourself, you’ll be better prepared the next time you receive a suspicious text from an unknown number. If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend. Also, be sure to check out our Blog to learn more about various scams and ways to protect yourself from being a victim.