“Who is going to believe a con artist? Everyone, if the artist is good.”
While Andy Griffith may have said this in jest, it’s a reality for millions of Americans who fall prey to phishing and text scams every year. Scammers constantly find new ways to swindle victims out of their hard-earned bucks. Smishing, which is essentially phishing via text spam, is fast becoming the favorite scamming tactic for cybercriminals.
In 2021, scammers sent about 87.8 billion spam texts, which is substantially higher than the 72.2 billion spam calls they sent the same year. In the same period, scammers stole around $10 billion from their victims through text scams. Like any other scam, smishing fraudsters count on your gullibility to execute their scam successfully. So, you can easily fend them off if you understand how they run their scams.
How Do Cybercriminals Pull Off Smishing?
For years, cellphone spam has mainly been through spam calls or spoof calls. This is where scammers call pretending to be someone or an institution you’re familiar with (could be your neighbor, bank, credit card company, e.t.c) and convince you to share personal details like your social security number. Smishing follows the same script, only that fraudsters use text messages instead of phone calls.
How Text Scams Play Out
You receive a text message purportedly from Amazon, UPS, FedEx, or another shipping company with a shipping update about a package. They’ll make sure it’s a large-budget item like a MacBook to get your attention. The scammers will include a link to their own malicious website within the text message.
If you click the link, it will prompt you to sign up with your private details to track your package( which is non-existent in practice). Once you give out your details, such as credit card information, scammers can run all types of frauds using your information. While impersonating shipping companies is the more popular trend, scammers may also masquerade as your bank and trick you into sharing your banking details.
The more sophisticated text scams appear to come from your own phone number. Scammers manipulate phone networks such that you get an urgent text message from your phone number.
Cybercriminals disguise the text spam such that it appears to have originated from your mobile service provider company. To sound legit, the message may reference your phone bill or advertise a wireless plan you may be interested in. The message content will have an embedded link that will lead you to a malicious data-harvesting website if you click the link.
How To Protect Yourself From Text Scams
The best way to thwart smishing attacks is not to respond to any suspicious text message you receive on your mobile phone. Especially if the message is worded with phrases like “click now before the link expires,” don’t engage immediately without verifying the link source. Almost always, it’s a leaf from the scammers’ phishing playbook designed to trigger instant action from you, so you share sensitive information without second thoughts.
Even so, other ways you can use to protect yourself include:
- Update your phone’s browsers consistently
- Back up the information on your mobile device
- Don’t save sensitive information on your phone
Bottom line, as long as you don’t engage scammers by responding to their messages, you’ll be very much safe from smishing. Always remember that financial institutions will NEVER text to ask for sensitive personal information. Don’t share your banking information via text or phone with someone claiming to be from Western Bank. Instead, disengage and contact Western Bank at (800) 500-1044.