As new technology develops, new scamming methods unfortunately develop too! Smishing (or SMS phishing) is the latest phishing scam that is currently circulating through our cell phone messaging systems. Similar to phishing, smishing is a type of mobile fraud in which the scammer attempts to gain confidential or highly personal information. Scammers achieve this by sending us convincing SMS’s or texts on our cellphones to commit fraudulent and other criminal activities.
Most of us have received a mobile text (SMS) at some point in our lives that has left us confused and suspicious. For example, someone pretending to work for your bank sends you an urgent message, claiming that your bank cards have expired. They ask for your bank account details and passwords to ‘renew your expired bank card’ in attempt to actually steal money from you. The goal for the scammer in this case is same as email phishers, where the phisher sends an email in attempt to gain personal information by tricking the victim into giving away specific personal details.
Why is Smishing Dangerous?
Smishing is dangerous because it is a very effective method, currently more so than email phishing! This is because receiving text messages generally feels more personal than emails, causing people to trust any given information that has been sent to their mobile phones. Think of spam emails and advertisements in your email inbox, compared to text messages that you would receive from personal contacts and people you know. It feels personal, as these messages are directed to you specifically, meanwhile these types of messages are forwarded to hundreds of random cell phone users across the globe.
Text messages also seem to give a sense of urgency, due to the short ‘telegram’ language that is generally used compared to long-winded emails. Victims can be easily tricked, as these cell phone text messages appear more legitimate and trustworthy.
Do not be fooled! Providing your personal details (such as names, identification numbers, address etc.) can allow criminals to access your private accounts or commit identity theft.
Taking your personal information is not the only thing that scammers do. Smishing can also cause malware to be installed onto your mobile device by enticing the victim to open a link to a website. If there is malware on that linked website, then opening that link can automatically download viruses and other malware onto your device.
How Can I Avoid Being a Victim of Smishing?
Luckily, you can avoid becoming a victim of smishing by learning how to recognize when text messages are likely to contain false information, or any links to websites that may have malware. Here are some tips to recognizing these types of messages:
- Avoid answering messages from foreign cell phone numbers. Scammers will usually send messages through unrecognizable cell phone numbers. Do not answer any messages from any cell phone number that you do not know. Also, do not answer cell numbers that do not resemble regular cell phone numbers (e.g. 3000). This short number is a type of number that indicates an email that was forwarded to a cellphone in text (SMS) format.
- Ignore foreign messages. Do not answer messages that inform you about subscriptions or payments that you do not remember or recognize. An example may be: “to end this subscription, please click on this link” followed by a link to a website that you do not know of. If you know that you have not signed up for any subscriptions, then it is probably a scam!
- If you are asked to call a foreign telephone or cellphone number, do not call that number! If you receive a message to call someone that you do not know, and the recipient is unrecognizable, then it would be safest to just ignore the message.
- Be aware of false Internal Revenue Service (IRS) text messages. False messages asking for IRS details are very common. Learn how to spot IRS phone scams and how to best avoid them.
- Be wary of any forwarded messages that you receive from people you know. Friends may often send forwarded chain messages that can contain malware. Sometimes friends may send links to you without knowing if these links are safe to open. If someone you know sends you a link that you do not recognize, then ask them to verify is the link is safe to open. Or, ask them what the link is for/ what it is about and why they sent it.
- Download an anti-malware app on your phone that can help block any potential viruses or other malicious software that can be downloaded onto your phone. You can download malware unknowingly if you open any websites that can come from these scammers.
Now that you know about smishing, you can help others avoid being victims of smishing too! Stay alert. We will keep you informed to keep you safe.