Texting has made it so much easier to reach out to friends and family no matter where they are. Since texting is asynchronous, it gives you the freedom to respond whenever you want and whenever is convenient.
As great as texting might be for communication, this also makes it a lot easier for hackers and scammers to have access to your number to send you fake messages. And these fake messages can sometimes give them access to private information if you’re not careful.
Let’s learn some helpful, easy tricks to identify fake messages to keep yourself safe, as well as some ways to fix the issue if you do happen to become a victim of fraud or text message scams yourself.
Different Kinds of Spam Text Messages
There are a few types of fake text messages that you might get sent, each with the intention of gaining some sort of personal information.
Phishing is the most common form of spam, both over text as well as email, web ads, and more. Phishing is designed to impersonate a real person or organization, usually made to look like it is coming from a bank, government agency (like the IRS), or another major corporation.
A common form of phishing currently is a fake “missed delivery” message from the United States Postal service that then asks you to input your address and payment information. Sometimes, you might get messages claiming to be from your insurance agency or bank, which are also considered phishing scams.
Baiting is similar to phishing in that it is usually made to look like it is coming from a reputable source. The difference is that this usually offers up something enticing in exchange for information.
The bait could be the promise of getting paid, downloading a new song, and more.
Quid Pro Quo
This involves a hacker requesting important, private data in exchange for a service. For instance, you might get a text from a hacker who acts like an IT expert to offer up free assistance for personal information.
Know the Signs
While some fake messages can be convincing, there are a few telltale signs that a text message is not genuine.
Spelling and Grammatical Errors
If there’s one thing that many spammers have in common, it’s that they have notoriously poor grammar and rampant misspellings. More often than not, a spam message will be littered with spelling mistakes or word usage that doesn’t really make any sense.
A legitimate company has writers who check their email and text blasts over and over to make sure they are perfectly error-free. If you get a text with obvious errors, and it didn’t come from a close friend or family member, then you can be safe in assuming that it’s fake.
Freebies and Giveaways
Very few things in life come for free, and that is something you can live by when it comes to spam text messages. Often, hackers will lure you in by offering up something for free to get you to click on links or give up personal information in exchange.
Here’s the thing — lots of organizations do use giveaways and sweepstakes as a legitimate means of drawing in new business. So if you receive a message like this, look at the context.
If the message claims that you’ve already won a contest that you never remembered entering, then that’s a clear sign that something is up. Additionally, sweepstakes will never ask you to spend money in order to get money, so avoid those at all costs. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
The Message Is Not Specifically Addressed to You
You would probably only get messages from close friends or family that are not specifically addressed to you. Legitimate businesses often refer to you by name so you can tell that you’ve been there before and that they know who you are.
If you ever receive a “cold call” message without your name attached, or a simple message without much content, that’s a sign that it’s not something you want to respond to. Treat these with caution if you do decide to respond.
Sense of Urgency and Immediate Action
In order for a spammer or a hacker to try to get you to fall into their trap and share information, they often give you a sense of urgency that makes it seem like you need to act fast. This can cause you to feel a lot of fear and panic, which might make you more susceptible to giving in.
If you ever receive a message saying that you need to take urgent action, you should verify this on your own before you give in to any demands. Reach out to the institution claiming to be reaching out to you by calling the phone number listed on their official website to see if the message is real or if it’s entirely spam. For instance, scammers might try to create a panic, pretending to be a government official, saying that you need to pay them in gift cards.
People engaging in fraud like to disguise themselves by including unidentified links in their messages. Never tap a link that doesn’t come from someone you know, especially if the message you received contains any of the other red flags listed above.
Scammers send links, and when you click on them, you have a risk of downloading malware onto your device that can get your sensitive information. You can generally assume that any message you receive from a suspicious unknown sender that includes links is something you want to delete and ignore.
It’s From a Bank or Government Institution
Generally, financial institutions like credit card companies, banks, or loan servicers will never, never contact you over text message. If they do, it’s usually just a reminder or a general message that will not ask for your personal information.
Spammers don’t know who you bank with, so you might even get a message from a bank you don’t even have an account with. Regardless, never respond to a financial institution asking you to give personal information through text message. Banks will only ever request information over the phone or in person. Never give out your financial information (like credit card numbers) or social security numbers over text.
Common Text Scams
There are some common text scams currently making their rounds. If you know what to look for, you can better protect yourself against any issues. Common text scams include:
- UPS missed delivery messages: A hacker will send you a message saying a package wasn’t delivered properly, prompting you to input your payment and contact information to receive it again.
- Confirmation code text scams: Scammers may try to create accounts with your information, and in doing so, a confirmation code can get sent to your mobile device. Be sure to never confirm any codes if you did not request them to begin with. SMS marketing is a real strategy, so review the difference between legitimate and SMS messages and smishing.
- Bank of America and bank scams: Messages that appear to be from a financial institution might tell you that your account balance is low, compromised, or unsafe, therefore requesting your account information to resolve them. Remember that banks will not contact you over text for these matters.
- COVID-19 Scams: Fraudsters are offering COVID-19-related services in exchange for personal details, like Medicare information.
What To Do if You Get a Spam Text
If you get a spam message, the main thing you should not do is respond to the text. Scammers can get a lot of information from you from a single response, and they can have a better chance of luring you in if you give them the time of day.
Instead, here’s what you can do:
Report the Message
There are three ways to report an unwanted message to reduce the risk that the same scammer affects someone else in the future.
For one, you can copy the message and forward it to 7726 (SPAM). This will get sent to your wireless provider, who can use this information to block and report similar messages if they start to get sent in the future.
You can also report it directly to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This allows the FTC to gather information and reports on common fraudulent suspicious activities to help stop this from happening across the globe.
Your messaging app also likely has a feature that lets you block spam. On iPhone, open the conversation and tap the contact at the top of the screen. From there, tap the info button, scroll down, and tap Block This Caller. On Android, you just find the name of the contact you want to block and then tap Block and Report Spam.
File a Cyber Crime Report
Suppose you fall victim to a spam message and end up having your personal information compromised because of the tricks and deception of a scam text message hacker. In that case, you can report your crime through the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
The FBI has specially trained squads and rapid response teams to respond to major incidents within hours. The IC3 collects complaints from across the world to try to pinpoint epicenters where hackers and spammers are wreaking havoc to hopefully put an end to the inconvenience.
If your identity is compromised, you could file a complaint to the IC3 here. Rapid reporting can help support the recovery of lost funds if your credit cards and bank accounts have been compromised. Besides identity theft, you can also contact your nearest FBI Field Office for help with network intrusion, ransomware attacks, data breaches, and more.
How To Protect Against Text Message Spam
One of the best ways to fix an incident of spam is to just avoid it in the first place. Knowing the six warning signs listed above is a great way to help protect yourself against spam, but there are other preventative measures you can take, like getting a Burner number.
Having a second Burner cell phone number is one of the best ways to protect your personal number from harm. Your second number essentially acts as a shield between your personal number and the outside world.
Essentially, if you need to make an outgoing phone call or text, people will only see your Burner number instead of your personal digits. And if someone ever tries to reach out to you, whether it’s a scammy, suspicious text or an annoying cold call from a local business, they will only ever see your Burner number.
From there, decide if you want to let the number go through or if you want to block it so that it can’t try to contact you again. There are also do not disturb features that are perfect for tuning out after a long day of work, as well as the ability to add a business line to make it the perfect companion for your small business.
You can get a second Burner number with any area code of your choosing, and you can even swap out your number for a new one whenever you want if you feel like your Burner number is getting compromised with tons of spam texts and calls.
From buying and selling on Craigslist to online dating, there’s a use for Burner that everyone can get behind. Get your second number today, and stop worrying about your private information getting misused.
Fake texts have the sole purpose of trying to get you to spill some private information. And while there are many different types, some of the main criteria that usually should act as a red flag include:
- Spelling mistakes
- No specific addressee
- Sense of urgency
- Strange, suspicious links
- Claims of being from a bank or financial institution
If you do fall victim to a text scam, be sure to block the number and report it to the FTC so that similar scams don’t affect someone else in the future. You can also take steps now to protect yourself by getting a second Burner number, which shields your personal number from outgoing and incoming calls or texts.
Get your second Burner number today for better peace of mind.
Fraud Alert: COVID-19 Scams | Office of Inspector General | Government Oversight | U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
How to Recognize and Report Spam Text Messages | Consumer Advice | FTC
Avoid the Temptation of Smishing Scams | Federal Communications Commission