A few weeks ago, I woke up to an early morning text message on my smartphone. It wasn’t my editor or a friend in need in a different time zone. It was a message from myself.
“Free msg: your bill is paid for the month of March. Thank you, here is a little gift for you,” read the text from my own phone number, directing me to a web link.
Over the past month, I have received a handful of such texts. In online forums, many Verizon customers reported the same experience.
It was clear to me what was happening. The scammers had used internet tools to manipulate phone networks to text me from a number they weren’t texting from. It was the same method that call bots use to “spoof” phone calls to make it look like they’re coming from someone legitimate, like a neighbor. If I had clicked on the web link, I would most likely have been asked for personal information, such as a credit card number, which a scammer could use for fraudulent purposes.
Consumers have grappled with cellphone spam for years, mostly in the form of robocalls with scammers ringing incessantly leaving fraudulent messages about late student loan payments, internal audits Revenue Service and expired car warranties.
It’s only recently that mobile phone fraud has shifted more towards text messages, experts say. Spam from all kinds of phone numbers, not just yours, is on the rise. In March, 11.6 billion fraudulent messages were sent over US wireless networks, up 30% from February. That outpaced robocalls, which grew 20% over the same period, according to analysis by Teletechwhich makes anti-spam tools for phones.
Verizon has confirmed that it is investigating the text issue. On Monday, he said he fixed the issue. “We blocked the source of the recent text messaging system in which bad actors were sending fraudulent text messages to Verizon customers that appeared to be from the recipient’s own number,” said Verizon spokeswoman Adria Tomaszewski.
AT&T and T-Mobile representatives said they had not seen the same issue. But text spam affects all wireless subscribers, and carriers are now offering online resources to find out how people can to protect yourself and report as spam.
SMS scams vary widely, but often involve tricking you into spitting out your personal data with messages disguised as tracking updates for bogus package deliveries or information about healthcare products and online banking. Their rise has been fueled in part by the fact that the messages are so easy to send, Teltech said. Additionally, industry-wide and government-wide efforts to crack down on robocalls can push scammers to switch to texting.
“Scammers are always looking for the next big thing,” said Giulia Porter, vice president of Teltech. “Spam text messages are simply increasing at a much more drastic rate than spam calls.”
Here’s what to look for with SMS scams – and what you can do.
What does spam text look like
According to Teltech, by far the most common SMS scam is the message pretending to be a company offering a shipping update on a package, such as UPS, FedEx, or Amazon.
Over the past week I have received messages that a Samsung TV – an expensive item meant to catch my eye – could not be delivered. Another advertised an anti-aging skin cream. Another post touted the benefits of a product that cured brain fog.
Be on the lookout for these telltale signs of fraudulent text:
Fraudulent text messages usually come from phone numbers with 10 or more digits. Genuine business entities typically send messages from four-, five-, or six-digit numbers.
The message contains misspelled words intended to circumvent mobile operator spam filters.
Links in fraudulent text often look strange. Instead of a traditional web link consisting of “www.websitename.com”, these are web links that contain phrases or phrases, like droppoundsketo.com. This practice, called URL cloaking, involves using a fake web link that directs you to a different web address that asks for your personal information.
How to protect yourself
Above all, never click on a link or file in a suspicious message.
Also definitely do not respond to such a message. Even typing “STOP” will tell a scammer that your phone number is active.
To report a fraudulent SMS, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile offer the same number to forward the messages to: 7726. After the forwarding, the operator asks for the telephone number from which the message originates.
If text spam becomes overwhelming, spam filtering apps such as Teltech’s TextKiller are meant to help. The app, which blocks spam for $4 a month, scans messages from phone numbers that aren’t in your address book. If the text is detected as spam, it is filtered into a folder called “Junk”.
TextKiller was thorough – maybe too thorough. It successfully intercepted five spam messages in five days, but it also mistakenly filtered out two legitimate messages, including a reply from Verizon thanking me for reporting spam and a message from an AT&T spokesperson. So I wouldn’t recommend paying $4 a month for this app, which is only available for iPhones, unless spam messages have become really unbearable for you.
A more practical solution is to use free tools to minimize spam interruptions. On iPhones, you can open the Settings app, tap on Messages, and enable an option to “filter unknown senders.” This puts messages from numbers that aren’t in your phone book into a separate message folder. On Android phones, you can open the mail app, enter spam message settings, and enable “block unknown senders”.
At the end of the line
There’s a moral to this story: we can help keep spam from flooding our phones if we stop sharing our phone numbers with people we don’t fully trust. This includes the cashier at a retail store asking for our phone number to get a discount, or an app or website asking for our numbers when we sign up for an account. Who knows where our numbers end up after they reach the hands of marketers?
A better idea is that we all carry a second set of numbers, which can be created with free internet calling apps like the voice of googlewhich we treat as a burner phone number.
This way, the next time a scammer tries to text you from you, it won’t be from your own number.