Text Scams: A Guide on How to Identify and Prevent Them
Published: Feb 10, 2023
It’s common to think we’re immune to text scams—or any other type, for that matter. But the reality is that it can happen to just about anyone. Also known as smishing or SMS phishing, scam messages have joined the ranks of email phishing and fraudulent phone calls.
These unsolicited texts often go around with the intention of obtaining personal and financial information from those who interact with them. The personal nature of our SMS inbox is what makes smishing texts even more effective. This is why it’s critical to know how to spot a fraud message and how to handle one.
What Is a Text Scam and How Can You Identify It?
A text scam is a type of fraud that takes place through SMS messaging, often on mobile devices. In many cases, it can involve phishing for personal information with false promises of money or prizes. A fake message can also pose a trusted entity to trick you out of your money.
Keep an eye out for messages that request immediate payment or ask for credit card numbers, social security numbers, or other financial or personal information. Typos and grammatical errors are other dead giveaways.
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Common Signs of Scam Messages
These types of messages come in different forms. In any case, there are common hints that can help you spot—and hopefully avoid—a fraudulent SMS.
1. 11-Digit Numbers
A message that is safe to open usually comes from a 5 or 6-digit short code, a 10-digit toll-free number, or a text-enabled landline. This means an alert you regularly receive from your favorite pizza chain is nothing to worry about.
If a message happens to be from an 11-digit number, chances are it’s a scam text. Even if the sender claims to be your bank, insurance agent, or any legitimate organization, always check the number to be sure. Besides, there’s no way a bank will reach out to you from a personal mobile phone number and ask for sensitive information such as your card numbers.
2. Random Emergency Texts
Another texting hoax to be aware of is the fake family emergency. For example, you may receive a message saying that a certain family member of yours has gotten into trouble and that the only way you can help them is with a money transfer. The sender may even claim that trying to get in touch with this family member or telling someone else would put them in danger.
What makes these texts effective is that they can be quite frightening, which is why it’s crucial that you verify the sender’s identity before taking any action.
3. Fake Refunds
While some request money from you, others claim that an amount is owed to you. A common example of this is refund scams. These often pose as a government agency or a mobile network provider, claiming that you were overcharged.
The sender will ask for your deposit information in order to process the refund. After obtaining the routing number, they’ll have access to your bank account and steal your money.
4. Raffle Prizes
One type of texting fraud you’ve likely come across at some point in your life is the infamous “You’ve won a prize” message. The message will tell you that you’ve won something like a special raffle, a sweepstake, a gift card, or a giveaway. It will often ask you to claim your prize by entering a suspicious hyperlink or by replying to the SMS.
In many cases, the hoax may even trick you into providing your personal information or a certain amount of money in exchange for the "reward." If you don’t remember entering a specific contest, simply ignore the text. And even if you did enter a raffle, it’s best if you double-check by contacting the actual brand.
5. Reactivation Scams
A reactivation scam message often appears innocent on the surface. It may tell you that your password has been hacked or compromised and that they have deactivated your account for your "protection." And to “reactivate” your account, the message will ask you to text a certain keyword or even send your login credentials.
If you receive this type of messafe, simply check the account in question. You may also want to delete and report the message. It’s also worth mentioning that an SMS authentication service helps protect your accounts in such cases.
What to Do if You Get Hacked by a Text
Countless spam texts are reported each year, and if you happen to fall victim to one, it’s safe to say that you’re not alone—worst-case scenarios aren’t all that common. You can often fix the situation by acting as soon as possible. Depending on the fraud, measures you can take include:
Blocking the number from your mobile phone
Informing your mobile carrier of the number and incident
Canceling credit cards and reporting the fraud (if your financial info is compromised)
Changing your passwords on online accounts that contain sensitive information
Tips for Stopping Text Hoaxes
It often makes sense not to reply to these messages. To prevent yourself from getting hacked, it’s also important that you:
Avoid clicking on a link in a suspicious text
Don’t act quickly when you receive a suspicious message—making you feel rushed and confused is how they get you
Report the suspected spam SMS to your mobile carrier and block the number
Delete the message as soon as possible and consider taking a screenshot for future reference
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can You Identify Who Sent You a Scam Text?
If you receive a suspicious message from an unknown sender, simply Google the number. You may find it on websites that list and report numbers associated with scam texts. While tracking the sender can get you some answers, the best thing to do is to block and report the number before deleting the message from your phone. The security of your phone and personal information is more important than knowing who sent you the smishing message.
Can You Get Hacked by Replying to these Messages?
In many cases, responding to them can lead to unwanted charges or even result in malware entering your phone. It’s often best to avoid any interactions with suspected scams.
Can You Get Hacked by Opening a Scam Text?
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll get tricked just by opening a suspicious message. This is why they will often ask you to enter a link, call a number, or reply with sensitive information. As long as you don’t comply, opening the message won’t cause any problems.