Getting a fake text message from scammers now and again seems to have become a part of modern life. The two text messaging schemes that affect cell phone users the most are known as smishing and spam. Both are annoying and can lead to personal data breaches by malicious bad actors. The good news is that there are simple ways to identify whether a text message is fake.
Fake Text Message: Smishing or Spam?
When identifying fake text messages, you’ll want to look for two main types.
Smishing is the text messaging version of phishing. Like phishing, smishing schemes try to gain your personal information by pretending to be a reputable source, like the IRS or a financial entity. However, phishing uses emails, while smishing schemes utilize text messaging. Both phishing and smishing lead you to reveal personally identifiable information (PII), or protected health information (PHI), in an attempt to steal your assets or even your identity.
Spam often invites recipients to click on a link. Spam can also be unwanted messages, for example, messages from a restaurant offering coupons or other “junk” content. The trouble with spam is that smishing often comes as a spam message. Therefore, clicking on links from unknown text messages can pose as much a threat to you as smishing.
How to Identify a Fake Text Message
You can usually tell whether a text message is fake by asking yourself:
- Is it unsolicited or unexpected?
- Is the sender’s identity or the message content vague?
- Is it asking you to “act now“?
- Is it offering you something for free?
- Is it full of misspellings or errors?
- Is it asking you to click on a strange link?
- Is it from a financial entity?
- Is it from an unknown phone number?
Unsolicited or Unexpected
A random SMS message that arrives out of the blue from an unknown individual or business is unsolicited. Yes, sometimes unexpected messages happen, but they have a higher chance of being fraudulent text messages.
Additionally, unexpected messages are equally suspicious. For example, if you know you have entered a contest, it might make sense to receive a text message alerting you that you have won. But, if you haven’t entered a raffle or didn’t give out your cell phone number in that context, you should consider ignoring the message.
Be wary if you receive a message with generic or extremely general content. Even if the message has your name in it, ask yourself, is the content extremely vague? Is it trying to get me to give information but not giving me any details in return? Is the caller ID a legitimate company name or something vague such as “Account Services”? If you can’t tell what it’s about, it’s best not to reply.
A popular scammer scheme involves a surprise text message urging recipients to “act fast” or face some consequences. It may be an “act now or lose your chance to win” message or a “the IRS requires immediate action” message. Whenever text messages demand immediate action, it can be cause for concern.
Always, always, always be wary of “free” stuff. It’s most likely a widespread scheme to get recipients to click on links and give their personal information (address, name, etc.) under the guise of shipping free items to you. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Many scammers set up shop offshore where the arms of our American laws can’t reach them. So, standard markers of fraudulent text messages are poor grammar and spelling errors. Check for strangely worded sentences, misspelled words, and confusing language in the text – if present, it’s likely a scam or smishing message.
It’s not uncommon to receive a perfectly safe link in a text message – perhaps from a friend sharing a funny post. That said, links are one of the most common ways smishers get your information. At a minimum, make sure a link starts with HTTPS:// – if there is no “s,” it is not a secure link. Additionally, avoid links with misspellings, numbers, or random symbols.
Financial and government institutions very seldom send text messages. If you receive one, do not call any number in the text message, as it may belong to scammers. Only use the official phone number listed on the entity’s webpage to contact them. Then confirm that they sent you a text message.
Unknown Phone Number
Because so many text-message spam hubs are offshore, be wary of numbers outside your area code, especially those outside the country. On the flip side, an unknown phone number that matches your own area code may belong to a scammer who is spoofing. Spoofing is when someone deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity.
Examples of Fake Text Messages
Using the identifiers listed above, let’s look at what fraudulent text messages might look like.
Fake Text Message 1:
You’ve Won! Click http://winstuff.generic.com to claim your prize.
Why it’s Suspicious
- If you haven’t entered any contests, it’s probably unexpected.
- It contains HTTP link instead of an HTTPS link, meaning it’s pointing to a website that is not secure.
- The domain name of the link is very generic.
- It’s offering a free prize.
Phony Text Message 2:
URGENT: Your credit card has been stolen. Click https://cltlbank.com to confirm your information and receive a new card.
Why it’s Suspicious
- It’s unexpected.
- It’s requiring urgent action on your part.
- The URL is fake: the link looks like it has the name “Citibank” in it yet uses “L” instead of “I.”
- It claims to be from a financial institution.
- It’s asking you for information.
Spishing Text Message 3:
You are entitled to a refund from [Shop Name.] Please confirm the bank account to send money.
Why it’s Suspicious
- If you haven’t bought anything from this shop, it’s unexpected.
- It is asking for bank account information.
- It doesn’t even include a link to provide the information.
Fake Text Message 4:
Your HBO autopayment failed. Go to https://HBOlive.net/ddocs/1721117009 to confirm payment and avoid a charge.
Why it’s Suspicious
- Unless you have HBO autopay, it is unexpected.
- The link has a complicated and strange URL with numbers.
- If you’re an HBO customer, you expect HBO to nave a .com, not a .net, in its domain.
- It’s asking for financial information from you.
- You must pay urgently to avoid a charge.
Bogus Text Message 5:
IMPORTANT: IRS need you to verify personel info for rebate. Go to getrefun.IRS.com to confirm.
Why it’s Suspicious
- The IRS does not usually ask for information via text message.
- The word “need” should be “needs”.
- “Personel” should be “Personal”
- “Getrefun” should be “Getrefund”.
- IRS links end with .gov not .com.
- It’s trying to get your personal information.
How to Protect Yourself From Fake Text Messages
Now that you know how to identify bogus text messages, it’s equally important to know that you can prevent and protect yourself from smishing and spam. Here’s how:
Look Up Unknown Numbers
It may seem too easy, but searching unknown phone numbers through a search engine can quickly identify a smishing attempt. If a number does come up as suspicious, don’t answer a text message with “Stop” or “No” to end the conversation. Instead, block the number and ignore it from there.
Download an Anti-Virus App
There are dozens of anti-virus apps available for smartphone use. Use a reputable brand for protection. Norton, Kaspersky, and AVG have well-known virus protection programs for cell phones. Anti-virus software will periodically scan your phone for any malicious viruses, and many have options to screen calls and messages for smishing.
Use Identity Protection
The age of technology has allowed hackers to obtain personal information in a blink of an eye. So say you do click on a link in a text message… what then? At that point, you may consider using identity protection ID Shield or Lifelock. These services prevent unknown entities from accessing social security numbers and other personal data 24/7.
Don’t Reply to Spam
Never reply to spam messages, even if it gives you an option to end a chat by replying “Stop” or “No.” Replying tells the hacker or bot your number is active and may lead to additional smishing attempts in the future.
Avoid Unknown Links
We’ve said it before, and we’re repeating it: never click on links in a text message from an unknown sender. Clicking on a link can send you to a malicious webpage that starts gathering your data when you access the page or download malware or viruses to your phone.
Use Call Filters
These are so easy to install and run in the background. Many cell carriers (and some cell phones) now offer call filter options that warn of possible scam messages. The filters usually flag the sender and, in some cases, can block the number automatically.
Block Known Spammers
If you confirm a text is, in fact, spam or smishing, you should block the number. Just make sure to report the number to your cell service first, so they can take action to protect customers from the malicious entity using the number.
Register Your Number with DNC
You can enter your phone number under the Federal Do Not Call Registry to stop unwanted telemarketing calls. Although the Federal DNC will not technically block text messages, the Federal Trade Commission does take action against companies who perform fraud via text message if consumers report them. Meanwhile, many states have Do Not Call registries that cover text messages, such as the Indiana Do Not Call List. Be sure to look for a Do Not Call registry to join in your own state.
Fake text messages are not only obnoxious, but they can also scam the recipient financially and even steal their identity. Now that you know how to spot, avoid and block fraudulent text messages, we hope you will feel more confident when a strange message appears on your phone. And, if you are interested in sending legitimate text messages to your own customers, check out ReminderCall’s automated text message services.