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Most people are aware of phishing – or email scams – but they may not realize scammers can also target them with deceptive text messages sent to their smart devices. It's called "smishing": a mashup of SMS – for "short message service" – and phishing.

A typical smishing scam message may seem like it's from a bank – maybe your bank – and include a link or phone number to bait you into clicking or calling. If you do, you stand a good chance of being hooked. And that's when the scammers get to work, manipulating your personal information, which they can sell and/or use in other scams. Smishers may also try to entice you into downloading malware to your device.

The FBI has issued warnings about smishing scams. In one such warning, the agency warned consumers about an increase in SMS/test message scams reported by the Internal Revenue Service. In this case, the bad actors phish for taxpayers' personal and financial information by including a phony web link in text messages that, if clicked, will take consumers to a counterfeit website. 

Things you can do to avoid being a victim of a smishing attempt include:

  • Never click links, reply to text messages or call numbers you don't recognize.
  • Do not respond, even if the message requests that you "text STOP" to end messages.
  • Delete all suspicious texts.
  • Make sure your smart device OS and security apps are updated to the latest version.
  • Consider installing anti-malware software on your device for added security.
  • Protect any sensitive personal information - bank accounts, health records, social media accounts, etc. - by using multi-factor authentication to access it. 

Validate any suspicious texts. If you get a text purportedly from a company or government agency, check your bill for contact information or search the company or agency's official website. Call or email them separately to confirm whether you received a legitimate text. A simple web search can thwart a scammer.

Bottom line: Stop before you engage and avoid the urge to respond. According to the FBI, Americans lost more than $1.4 billion to cybercrime in 2017, and a significant portion of that is attributed to personal data breaches, identity theft, confidence fraud and credit card fraud totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.

If you think that you are a victim of smishing, you should contact law enforcement to report the scam. You can also file a complaint with the FCC at no cost. Read the FCC Complaint Center FAQ to learn more about the FCC's informal complaint process, including how to file a complaint, and what happens after a complaint is filed.

Additionally, you can file complaints about consumer fraud with the Federal Trade Commission.