Text message scams (or SMS scams) are a popular type of phishing attack: These types of scams are difficult to trace, easy to do while pretending to be someone else, and can include malware links right in the text. Plus, if you aren’t paying close attention, you may fall for one without thinking, since we’re used to rapidly responding to text notifications.
But there’s a way to defend yourself – learn about scam texts ahead of time! Read on to learn about the most common (and surprisingly effective) phishing attempts hitting our phones these days. If you see one, you’ll know to ignore it and delete it.
Delivery Texts from Shipping Carriers
We’re all receiving more shipments these days, and that’s caused a rise in some very effective shipping scams where a phishing text pretends to be from a carrier like FedEx or UPS with important updates about your shipment.
They may ask you to set a delivery preference, ask you to fill out a survey, give you a fake shipment tracker link (which can be malware or may ask for your credit card number), or even promise a reward for shipping. Check directly with the mail carrier instead of answering the text.
A Message from Your Bank About a Closed or Compromised Account
messages say that your account is about to be closed, or has been hacked, and
they need personal information (coincidentally, a PIN number, SSN, or account
password) to make sure it stays open. They can come from traditional big banks,
PayPal, and many other financial accounts.
Yes, banks do sometimes send text messages if you sign up for them, but they use these to confirm credit card activity and similar tasks. The phishing texts, on the other hand, probably won’t include any personal information, may not even be from a bank you use, and often include suspicious links. If you have any doubts, always call up your bank before responding to a text like this or head straight to its website.
A Text from an Old Friend
This is a random text that pretends to be from a casual friend and provides a link that purports to be from social media (“check out my profile,” “these vacation pics are AMAZING,” and so on). This can be effective if you have a lengthy contact list or don’t always remember all the acquaintances you have hung around in the past.
The key is taking a moment to look at the nature of the text before clicking the link – it will be obviously suspicious and probably comes from a weird number. As a general rule, don’t click links in text messages.
Area Code Texts
This is a tried-and-true scam where you get a call or text from the same area code as your phone. If you aren’t paying attention, it can be easy to assume this is a relative or close friend that changed their number, or isn’t in your contacts (or perhaps a local business calling with an update). Don’t respond! These messages are trying to get you to send texts back to an international number and rack up hidden fees.
These scams may give themselves away by trying multiple times throughout the day with various numbers. However, they can be dangerous because they often pretend to offer important news or family emergencies that are easy to respond to on an instinctive level.
Service Confirmation Texts
pretend to be from a variety of online services. They promise notifications
from apps like Uber, sites like Craigslist, dating sites like Tinder, and many
other platforms…but they will all try to get you to click on a link. Delete and
Although, sometimes service confirmation texts that appear legitimate are a different problem – it could mean someone is using your email or phone number to sign up for random services. In these cases, ignore the confirmation and let the service know that you weren't the one who signed up.
Texts from the “IRS”
2020 has been a ripe year for IRS phishing texts, which may claim anything from having your stimulus check to warning that your tax return wasn’t properly filed. The IRS is not sending you texts, and is certainly not asking for personal financial information in them. You can check the status of your taxes, refund, stimulus checks, or anything at IRS.gov.
Texts About Winning a Prize
A tried but true phishing scam, these texts usually promise gift cards from popular companies (Amazon, Wal-Mart, etc.) or announce you’ve won a cash reward – with a malware link included. The text is trying to get you to click the link without thinking, and it remains a common scam because it works. If you didn't sign up for the giveaway or raffle, don't believe that you won it.