In this digital age, there is an ever-growing list of apps, tools, and channels for communication. SMS messaging remains highly popular, with around 5 billion people worldwide capable of sending and receiving them. Unfortunately, this makes it a prime channel for criminals and malicious parties to operate in.
Types of SMS Scams
Scammers mainly take advantage of a target’s naivety by sending SMS messages that trick the target into taking certain actions.
Spam SMS is an umbrella term for unsolicited or junk messages. A common form of spam SMS is a notification that the recipient has won a contest or lottery, requiring them to provide their personal details to claim the prize.
For phishing SMS and SMS originator spoofing, these scams pose as reputable brands or institutions. SMS originator spoofing, in particular, goes as far as to carry the official sender name or number of these brands and institutions.
Meanwhile, SMS malware attacks use unsafe links that, when clicked, can charge the recipient for premium SMS services without them knowing it. These services can rack up large amounts of charges if left undetected by the target.
Common SMS Scam Tactics
SMS scams become successful if they get to trick their targets into believing their message and acting on them. These scams usually hinge on an urgency or crisis of every kind—from a pandemic to personal emergencies.
One common scam tactic is the alleged family emergency. Posing as the recipient’s family member, scammers will claim to be in an accident or some kind of trouble. They will then ask the recipient for financial help, usually done through a money transfer.
Other scammers choose to pose as official service providers notifying the recipient of a potential problem. Depending on the scam, the message can be about any one of the following: a supposed refund from a transaction or service payment, the recipient’s account has been deactivated or compromised, or a package is being withheld or unable to be delivered. The recipient will then be asked to access a specific link, text in a code, or provide personal information to resolve the problem.
Finally, the random prize scam takes the form of unsolicited messages, announcing that the recipient has won a contest or giveaway—one that the recipient has not participated in. The message provides a suspicious link for the recipient to visit and input personal information to claim the prize they supposedly won.
How to Avoid SMS Scams
When dealing with SMS scams, it is critical to slow down and pay attention to the contents of a message before taking action.
Firstly, check if the message is relevant or solicited. Receiving messages for things that you didn’t participate in should be a red flag. Ignore these types of messages and do not click any links included in them as they may steal your personal information or spread malware on your phone.
Secondly, check the contents of the message and the sender’s details. Many spelling and grammatical errors are a telltale sign of a scam message. Some scam messages are sent by unknown numbers, while others will pose as made-up companies or contacts. When in doubt, look these names up to confirm their contact information or reach out to business organizations through other official channels.
Third, do not trust a message that refers to you by name or references other personal information. Scammers may have gotten hold of these sensitive details from online leaks or other malicious parties.
When a message seems suspicious or too good to be true, do not respond to them. Instead, block these numbers and report them to your service provider so they can alert other customers.
It can be scary to imagine being victimized by SMS scams. The best way to avoid falling for these scams is to stay vigilant and know the difference between legitimate and suspicious messages.