These days, it seems like everything is just one click away on our mobile phones.
Mobile devices can be very useful. They help us keep track of our busy schedules, follow news and social media, and pay our bills. They also keep us connected to family and friends, something many of us do via text.
Texting offers us a quick and easy way to send a message, or respond to one. Scammers have taken note, and many are betting that we may be more likely to respond to a text than answer a call from a number we don't recognize.
Because it's National Consumer Protection Week, we're taking time out to talk to family and friends about text-based scams, and we ask you to do the same.
One recent evening, I received a text claiming that my streaming video service account was inactive, and that I needed to click a link in the text to reactivate it. I knew immediately that this was a scam, as I was watching that streaming video service when I received the text.
Other texting scams may be harder to recognize, such as a package tracking scam recently highlighted in an FTC blog post. Some scam texts may direct you to call back a number "for more information" or "to resolve a problem." Scammers often already have some information about their targets and may disguise their text as being from your bank or other service providers. The goal is always to get more personal or financial information from the recipient in order to steal from them.
Text scams can take a variety of forms and are sometimes referred to as "smishing" – a mashup of SMS ("short message service") and phishing. Earlier this year, we shared information about a Selective Service (U.S. military draft) related text scam.
Clicking on a link in a scam text can have unfortunate consequences. The link you click could lead to a fake website asking you to log in to your account. If you do, the scammer will have your log in credentials, and will try to access multiple accounts you may have using those credentials. Clicking on a link in a text could also infect your phone with malware, especially if your cell phone OS security is not up-to-date.
Here are a few tips that can help you avoid texting scams:
Keep your guard up
- Do not respond to texts from unknown numbers, or any others that appear suspicious.
- Never share sensitive personal or financial information by text.
- Think twice before clicking any links in a text message. If a friend sends you a text with a suspicious link that seems out of character, call them to make sure they weren't hacked.
- If a business sends you a text that you weren't expecting, call them to verify its authenticity using the number on your bill or statement, or look up their number online.
- Remember that government agencies almost never initiate contact by phone or text.
- Report texting scam attempts to your wireless service provider by forwarding unwanted texts to 7726 (or "SPAM").
- File a complaint with the FCC.
- If you think you're the victim of a texting scam, report it immediately to your local law enforcement agency and notify your wireless service provider and financial institutions where you have accounts.
For more information on how to avoid unwanted robocalls and texts, go to our consumer guide.