Phishing is a scam wherein cybercriminals claim to represent reputable companies or provide important news to trick users into providing money or sensitive personal information. Traditionally, scammers have used emails to trick users; more recently, they have taken advantage of text messages.

A man wearing a sweater on his phone in the dark sending out scammy phishing text messages to steal money from innocent people with code icons showing in front of him

Smishing is a new term that refers to SMS phishing. This practice can harm customers but significantly damage companies if multiple employees are compromised.

To guard against these attacks, knowing how to detect phishing text messages, what to do (or not do) if you encounter them, and some common spam text message examples are crucial.

How To Detect Phishing Text Messages

Misconceptions that fake text messages are easy to spot can be dangerous; anyone can fall victim to an SMS scam if they are not careful. Scammers have grown more refined over the years and are constantly working to make their fake text messages look legitimate. As a result, you won’t always be able to detect a phishing scam immediately.

Here is a quick rundown of some common traits that spam text messages share:

  • Requesting sensitive information, such as your routing number or password.
  • Provide a link or hyperlink that is unverified for you to click on.
  • Asking you to act immediately by stating that the situation is urgent or an emergency.
  • Claiming that other contact methods, such as the website, are unavailable and providing alternate contact information.
  • Introducing a new feature that you are allegedly enrolled in, such as an account upgrade or a new service.

Phishing text messages may also have poor grammar and spelling errors, though not always. Similarly, any attached logos or other visuals may be grainy or poorly rendered. However, this is not always the case; many scam SMS messages look official.

How To Handle Phishing Text Messages

Regarding scam SMS messages, it is always better to err on the side of caution. Text scammers will try to con you out of money, passwords, bank account numbers, or other sensitive information.

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What Not To Do If You Receive Scam Text Messages

If you receive a message that you suspect is a scam, here’s what not to do:

  • Don’t Click Links – Clicking on a link can download malware or a dangerous virus onto your phone or otherwise jeopardize your phone’s security.
  • Don’t Respond – Don’t respond to or engage with the text in any way, even if the sender calls you or sends follow-up texts to try and pressure you into taking action.
  • Don’t Send Personal Information – Reputable organizations will not ask for sensitive or personal information over an unsecured medium like text messages.

What To Do If You Receive Scam Text Messages

If you receive a message that you suspect is a scam, here’s what you should do:

  • Verify The Information – Before taking action, verify the information by contacting the organization who allegedly sent the message; make sure to use the contact information listed on a website or official forum, not any contact methods listed in the text itself.
  • Report The Fraud – There are several organizations you can report scam text messages to, including the organization being framed, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and your phone carrier.
  • Block The Sender – Scammers often use multiple phone numbers, but it is still a good idea to block any numbers associated with phishing text messages.
  • Delete The Message – After you’ve taken any necessary action, such as reporting and blocking the number, delete the message so that you don’t accidentally click on it again.

Fake Spam Text Examples

Now that you’re more aware of what phishing is and how to fight against it, we’ll review some common examples of phishing messages and SMS scams. Remember that these examples cover common phishing scenarios; scammers may switch out details such as the company name or emergency scenario. Be alert and, when in doubt, confirm the information before taking action.

Locked Account

Many people receive important notifications via text message and, as a result, fall victim to text scams claiming that their accounts have been locked. Another variation of this is that their accounts have been compromised, that account information has been changed, or their account has been upgraded.

Example

Text message reading, “Your Zelle account has been suspended due to suspicious activity. Contact us immediately at 757-908-7665 or view the activity at https://fakewebsitename.com

Delivery Updates

Most people opt-in to receiving text messages about packages that are being delivered, which is why scammers will target you using this method. They will claim that your package is pending, has been delivered, has been rerouted, or another fake update to make you take action.

Example

Text message reading, “Your Amazon package is on its way! Click here to track progress: https://fakewebsitename.com

Bank Account Activity

When people receive a message about unexpected activity in their checking or savings account, they tend to react quickly to be proactive about potential theft. But this can backfire in the case of SMS scams, which rely on users not verifying information.

Example

Text message reading, “Charge $356.62 on account XXXX is pending. Authorize or dispute by calling 757-822-6478.”

IRS Tax Refunds

A typical phishing attempt is a claim that the IRS is attempting to contact you to verify your tax refund, provide missing information, or for another reason. These messages are always false; the IRS does not contact consumers via text message.

Example

Text message reading, “Your federal tax refund is pending. Refunds not accepted within 24 hours will be frozen: https://fakewebsitename.com

iCloud Verification

Text messages asking you to verify your Apple iCloud ID are fraudulent, as Apple does not request account information via text.

Example

Text message reading, “Fraudulent activity has been detected on your Apple iCloud account. To reset your password, visit https://fakewebsitename.com

Craigslist Buyers

Unfortunately, scam text messages on craigslist are common as cybercriminals seek to steal your information by presenting a false interest in a post. These phishing messages often state that you have a new message or other activity.

Example

Text message reading, “New Buyer Message! Read here: https://fakewebsitename.com

Free Gift Cards

Everyone loves receiving gift cards, which is why these are another typical spam text example. Scammers will claim that you’ve received a gift card or that one of your contacts has sent you a gift card.

Example

Text message reading, “John just sent you a $100 Amazon gift card! Click here to claim: https://fakewebsitename.com

Free Bitcoins

Bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency are incredibly alluring for cybercriminals because there is much less regulation surrounding this form of currency and much more confusion about how it works. Scammers take advantage of this by sending messages claiming you have received free bitcoins or other forms of online currency.

Example

Text message reading, “You have received 5 bitcoins ($10,500). Verify this transaction at https://fakewebsitename.com

Random Acquaintances

Beware of messages from someone you don’t know but who claims to have received your number through a dating app, mutual friend, or some other method (even an accident). Don’t trust any social media links or pictures accompanying the message.

Example

Text message reading, “Hey! It’s Sienna from Bumble. Here’s my profile in case you forgot: https://fakewebsitename.com. You still up to going out this weekend?”

Contest Winners

Winning money or other prizes out of the blue is the quintessential scamming example, but that doesn’t mean people don’t fall victim to it. This is especially true if the scammer claims to represent companies you’ve used before, such as hotel chains, restaurants, or lottery types.

Example

Text message reading, “Congratulations! You’ve won a three-day, two-night stay at Marriot Bombay. Call 757-826-9876 or click here to claim your prize: https://fakewebsitename.com