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An unfortunate side effect of the smartphone's market penetration is the rise in text scams. Since people are using their phones more than ever, scammers have increasingly turned to text messages to try and steal money, identities, passwords, and other sensitive information.
Texting scams are becoming more sophisticated. A common misconception is that text scams are easy to spot and riddled with spelling errors and other obvious signs of deception. But the reality is that anyone can fall victim to text message scams, so it's essential to understand common warning signs and how to protect yourself.
In the following sections, we'll go over five of the most common signs that a text message may be a scam. Additionally, we'll cover how to protect yourself and keep your valuable information out of the hands of scammers.
5 Warning Signs Of Scam Text Messages And How To Protect Yourself
Even if you've successfully avoided a text message scam, it's essential to remain vigilant in case of more sophisticated scams. Fraudsters are evolving to take advantage of new technology and loopholes in the law, so it's a good idea to take steps to ensure you're as prepared as possible to identify and prevent falling victim to these scams.
Warning Sign: Long Numbers
Remember that short code services use six digits and an SMS long code service uses ten digits. So if you're getting text messages from a number eleven digits or longer, chances are good that it's a scammer. It's more likely that a text scam will be sent using an SMS short or SMS long code. However, companies are increasingly disabling shared short codes to reduce spam and fraud, so most short and long codes are now registered to just one company.
What To Do
If you receive a message from an unknown number, use a search engine to find out who the number is registered to and whether or not it's a legitimate company. In most cases, it's best to not even respond to the text— simply delete it and, if possible, report the number for fraud. An easy way to report a number for fraud is to forward the scam text to the number 7726, which spells out SPAM on your phone keypad. This will automatically report the fraudulent number to your wireless service provider.
Warning Sign: Refunds Or Money Matters
A standard text message scam tells users they're eligible for a refund, either because they've been overcharged for a service or due to a report of a criminal charge. The text may also mention a third-party money service like Zelle or PayPal, such as that someone deposited money into your account or that you've been charged for an account upgrade.
What To Do
When it comes to texts dealing with money, always (always!) double-check the information before responding in any way. If the message claims your account was charged, check with your bank to verify. Similarly, check with third-party services to verify that a transaction has (or hasn't) occurred. Many of these services only send users messages in-app or through specific numbers or emails, all of which will be listed online.
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Warning Sign: Government Messages
Though some government services may contact you via text message, none of them will use text messages to perform transactions or exchange other sensitive information. The text may be from a recognizable agency, like the IRS, or one you've never heard of. These messages will often try to make you take quick action by claiming your immediate attention is needed or threatening legal action.
What To Do
If you recognize the agency, contact them to verify the information before taking action. If you don't recognize the agency, you can search online to see if it exists. Don't use any numbers in the text; instead, use a search engine to find the agency's official contact methods. You can also use any official communication or documentation you've received from that agency in the past (such as a bill, notice, etc.).
Warning Sign: Family Problems
If you get a message claiming to be from a relative, it may be a knee-jerk reaction to respond. The text may say that your relative had to borrow a phone, that they changed their number, or offer another reason for popping up as an unregistered contact. The text may also claim to be from a relative you don't know, such as someone who lives in another state or overseas. Often, these texts request money or other forms of help, such as a temporary loan.
What To Do
Even if you recognize the relative who allegedly sent the message, don't respond or send any money. Scammers can search your social media for names of relatives and personal details, such as a shared vacation or where you live. If you recognize the name but are unsure whether the relative is legitimate, simply text or call the number you already have for them. Alternatively, you can request to video chat or meet up in person to discuss the request; actual relatives won't have a problem with this, but scammers won't be able to.
Warning Sign: Immediate Action Items
Like the text message scam that deals with government agencies, many scams will detail a situation and claim that you need to take action immediately. The text may say that your credit card has been suspended, that you've won a raffle prize, that your order has been canceled, that your student loans are in default, or any other type of news you would want to address immediately.
What To Do
These text scams are arguably the easiest to debunk simply because you can disregard most of them. Anything to do with raffles or prizes can be immediately deleted. Similarly, if the text mentions a company you have nothing to do with – a bank you don't use, a store you don't shop at, etc. – then delete the message. You can also send the fraudulent number to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by filing a brief report online.