How to Identify a Text Scam

How to Identify a Text Scam

scam text messages

With any new form of communication comes the potential for scammers. Spam texts and text scams can be an unwelcome privacy intrusion and, if you fall for them, they could potentially create havoc in your life. SMS scams generally have the same goal: stealing your money by getting your personal information people across the globe now have instant connection at their fingertips. Plus, they’re always evolving. The Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker program added 47,567 separate text scams to its scam tracking program in 2019. Here’s how to identify a spam text to protect yourself, your friends and your family.

4 ways to identify scam text messages

Smishing, phishing that occurs over SMS, is often easy to spot when you know what you’re looking for. If you’re trying to weed out spam and text scams from your message inbox, these are the common warning signs that can tip you off. 

1. Abnormally long numbers

If a text message is legitimate, it’s usually from a number 10 digits or less. Marketing messages are either sent from a six digit short code or a 10-digit commercial long code. If you get a text from a number that is 11 digits long, you can probably assume you’re getting a text scam. Receiving a spam text from a long number doesn’t happen often, but if it does, be extra cautious before choosing to respond. In fact, this is probably a text you just don’t want to reply to.

2. Family crisis texts

Receiving news of a family crisis is alarming. If you were to receive a text from a random number asking for help, you might be inclined to send money to an unverified destination in case it would help a loved one. Family crisis text scams use this psychology to trick recipients into thinking a family member is in danger—and that they need to send money to correct the situation. 

When money is involved, err on the side of caution and proceed with skepticism. It’s likely you’re receiving an SMS scam.

If you’re unsure of the validity of a text, reach out to family members to ask whether they’ve received the same message. Additionally, if the text mentions someone by name, try reaching out to that person directly before responding to the original text. 

If a family member truly is in trouble, contact the proper authorities instead of sending money.

3. Text refund 

Another common text scam comes in the form of a text refund. Basically, you’ll receive a message saying that you’ve been overcharged for a service—many text scams use the guise of a phone service provider. The text will then offer to refund you, if you provide your direct deposit information. 

Sounds great, right? Nope! If you send your banking details over, whoever is scamming you will have access to your routing and account number and be able to steal from you. Never send banking information through unsecured means.

4. Random prizes

Scammers have come up with a myriad of creative ways to get your personal information. One of these ways is offering up random prizes, including cash and material goods. The catch? You’ll need to give your bank details, or other personal information, in order to claim the “prize.” 

While text-to-win contests are a legitimate form of text marketing, be wary of receiving news that you’ve won a contest you didn’t even enter. Despite the thrill of receiving an offer that sounds too good to be true, restrain yourself. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. If you can’t tell whether the offer is legitimate, call the company the contest is supposedly through and ask for verification. 

10 Common text scams to watch out for

There seem to be new text scams every day, but there are a few smishing techniques that are more popular than others. Here’s a 2019 list of common text scams and spam text messages examples to be wary of. 

1. Wells Fargo text scam

Wells Fargo has four official short codes, so if you get a text claiming to be from the bank but not from one of their official short codes. Don’t respond, it’s a phishing text. Wells Fargo’s verified short codes are: 93557, 93733, 93729 and 54687. 

Also, be aware that Wells Fargo will only ask to verify your identity if you’ve initiated some sort of action such as signing into online banking. If you haven’t done anything related to your banking that would prompt and identity check, it’s probably a text scam message. 

You can report a text scam message to Wells Fargo by copying and pasting the text message into an email (don’t attach screenshots) and sending it to reportphish@wellsfargo.com. If you’ve accidentally responded to the text message scam, call Wells Fargo at 1-866-867-5568.

2. Uber code text scam

Many people have reported receiving mysterious and unsolicited text messages with Uber confirmation codes despite not having recently signed up for the service. These occur when someone tries to create an Uber account with your text message. Phone numbers must be verified via text message, which is when the confirmation text is sent out. 

Since the text message is going to you, and not the scammer, it is impossible for the scammer to confirm the account and use your number. To end these text messages, reply STOP. 

3. Craigslist text scam

There’s more than one Craigslist text scam going around out there. The online classified website is a popular ground for scammers looking for easy targets. Scammers on Craigslist are typically phishing. 

What often happens is that scammers will send a text message saying you have notifications about a Craigslist post. Watch out for the domain. A common scam domain is cl-review.org, but there could be other domains that, like this one, look somewhat similar to an actual Craigslist domain but aren’t. Don’t click on any links that don’t take you directly to Craigslist and definitely don’t input any information on a site that isn’t directly owned by Craigslist. 

4. Bank of America text scam

Similar to the Wells Fargo text scam, with the Bank of America text scam the spammers will be sending you an illegitimate text message trying to get you to hand over personal banking information. Don’t respond to any text messages that ask for personal information. You can report Bank of America spam text messages by emailing abuse@bankofamerica.com. Include the number the spam text came from as well as what it said.

5. FedEx text scam

A popular text scam in 2019 is for the scammers to imitate a brand like FedEx, telling you they need additional information or money in order to deliver a package to you. FedEx does not require money transfer to third party or escrow service before they’ll deliver a package, so if that’s what the text message indicates then it’s definitely a FedEx text scam. While shipping services like FedEx can send legitimate automated SMS shipping updates, they’ll never ask for money or personal details before they deliver.

Sometimes, the scammers will threaten immediate action, such as suspension of your account, if you do not comply with their demands. These spam text messages will usually include a link to a site that is not owned by FedEx. Don’t click on these links or reply to these text messages. You can report them to FedEx by emailing abuse@fedex.com

6. Paypal text scam

Paypal is common territory for scammers looking to phish personal information over SMS message. The scammers will often tell you that your account is in danger of being deleted unless you take certain actions. Or, they might ask you to provide the tracking number of an item before you’ve received payment into your account. Remember, don’t provide any sensitive information like this unless you’re directly on a secure version of the Paypal website. Paypal won’t ask you for information like your credit card number, bank account number or driver’s license number over text message. You can report spam directly to Paypal at spoof@paypal.com

7. Western Union text scam

There are several types of Western Union SMS scams to be aware of. One of the most popular ones is a charity scam where the scammer will ask for money to be sent to help victims of an emergency. Keep in mind that legitimate charities don’t accept donations through Western Union.

The other common Western Union text scam is a smishing scam where the scammers will be trying to get personal identification information from you to proceed with identity theft. Don’t provide any personal identification through text message and be wary of any links that redirect to web pages that look somewhat “off.” 

Oh yeah, and if you get a text message offering you “free money” or a prize from Western Union if you’ll just enter some personal information — that one’s a scam too. That’s probably one of the most obvious spam text messages examples, but many people do legitimately fall for it each year, causing untold personal heartache.

8. Walmart text scam

One of the most common Walmart spam text messages examples is where the scammer will send a spam text claiming that you’ve won a free Walmart gift card. They’ll ask you to go to a link and enter your personal information to claim your prize. 

If you don’t remember entering the contest, it’s probably a scam. Definitely don’t enter any personal information on websites like these. If you think the offer might be legitimate, try to find contact information for the company who is running the contest. If you can’t find any information, then it’s definitely a scam. 

Another common Walmart text scam is one where scammers invite you to take a survey about your experience at Walmart. You have to follow a link to a survey and input personal information in order to do so. Do not enter personal or account information on a site like this. 

Lastly, if you receive a text message with an online order confirmation about an order that you did not place through Walmart.com, this could be another text scam. Watch out for scammers who claim they just need some additional personal information or payment to deliver your order. A real order confirmation should provide all the details about the order in the body of the message without requiring you to click any links. 

9. Someone complimented you text scam

The “someone complimented you” text scam went viral in 2018 with many people claiming it was linked to sex trafficking. The good news on this one is that it’s actually not a scam, per se. It was a marketing attempt by an app company to get people to download their app. Unfortunately, it does appear that they texted many phone numbers without prior consent, which is not compliant with federal laws. They did end up cancelling text invites because it was coming across as too spammy.

I think I sent my information to a scammer. Now what?

If you received a message that you now recognize as part of a scam, you still have options. If you’ve given your information, consider the following tactics to regain financial security and peace of mind. 

  • If you’ve given card information, cancel those cards with your bank. This makes the information you’ve given out unusable to scammers. If you’ve given out personal banking information such as your account numbers, contact your bank immediately to begin the appropriate spam protocol.
  • Report the fraud to your phone service provider, as they may have had other customers with the same experience. Informing your cell carrier will allow them to take action if they see their clients experiencing similar spam texts, or texts from the same number. 
  • Update your passwords! It never hurts to reset your online banking passwords, or any stored passwords you use online for that matter.  Doing so will make the process of hacking your account more difficult. You should have a unique password for every account and not one standard password you use across the internet. 
  • Take action and block the number sending you spam text. 

How to report spam text messages

If you’ve received a spam text message that claims to be from a certain company or brand, you should contact the customer service or dedicated abuse email or phone number at that company to report the spam. 

In addition to that, many carriers allow you to report spam text messages by forward the message to 7726 — this spells out SPAM on most phones. Verify with your carrier that this feature is supported with them. 

If you are the victim of fraud, file a report with your local law enforcement agency. You can also report fraud to the FTC.

How to stop spam text messages

If you’ve been on the receiving end of text spam before it’s only natural to wonder how to block spam text messages. There are a couple of different strategies when it comes to how to stop text spam. Here’s what you can do.

  • Do not respond. If the message is clearly from a scammer, don’t reply to them at all. This just confirms that your number is active. 
  • Reply STOP. If you’re dealing with a company, and not a scammer, you might take a different approach. If the spam text messages are from a legitimate company that isn’t doing anything wrong, per se, but they’re just annoying you with too many offers or SMS messages, just reply STOP to opt out. This should get you off of their text message list.
  • Block numbers. Yes, spammers and scammers can and do create new spams with different short codes. However, blocking numbers you know are definitely linked to a scammer can buy you some reprieve in the short term.
  • Report. If you’re wondering how to stop spam text messages once and for all, one of the best ways to stamp them out is to report scammers or spammers to the appropriate authorities. Also, report the scam to your carrier. They can use the information to figure out how to stop spam text messages at the source.

If you’re looking to avoid future text spam and scams, try installing an app like Truecaller or RoboKiller. These apps work to filter out spam texts, not to mention unwanted calls from telemarketers. 

Why am I getting spam text messages in the first place?

The mystery of how and why your number got into the hands of a scammer in the first place can be fascinating to many people. In all likelihood you’re getting a spam text message because your number was accessed by a person or company who you did not give consent to contact you. In the United States, any entity that sends text messages must be able to demonstrate that you agreed to receiving text messages from them — otherwise it’s considered illegal contact. 

 

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