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Tricky Texts: How to Avoid “Smishing” Scams


Woman shopping on her mobile phone

With the number of scams on the rise overall since the start of the pandemic, you may have noticed “phishing” attempts are no longer limited to email. Fraudulent offers and notices may also come to you via text; sometimes referred to as “smishing” or SMS phishing.

What Is Phishing?

Phishing is a cybercrime in which a target is contacted by email, telephone, or text message by someone posing as a legitimate institution to lure individuals into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking, and credit card details and passwords. The information is then used to access important accounts and can result in identity theft and financial loss.

In the case of fraudulent texts, it may be harder to tell what’s coming from a legitimate party. For example, some common scams include a UPS or USPS message regarding package tracking, or scammers posing as streaming companies such as Netflix regarding a payment issue.

So, How Can I Tell If a Message Is Fraudulent?

1. The number is unusually long

Legitimate marketing text messages are often sent from a 6-digit shortcode, a text-enabled, 10-digit toll-free number, or a business’s existing ten-digit landline. If you were to receive a text message from an unidentified 11-digit number, the odds are high that it’s a scam.

2. It contains an unexpected message

If a text mentions a product or service you don’t have a recollection of ordering or a situation that doesn’t sound likely, chances are it isn’t.

3. It includes a downloadable file or strange link

Just like spam emails, beware before clicking any links or files in a text from an unknown party.

4. It includes an urgent request to verify personal information

A legitimate business, such as your financial institution, will never ask you to verify personal information via text.

5. It’s too good to be true

Getting congratulated on winning a contest you didn’t enter? Most of us are not quite that lucky!

What to Do to Avoid Becoming a Smishing Victim

The best way to check the validity of a message from a business is to call them directly using the number on their website or if it’s a financial institution, the number on the back of your debit or credit card.

Scammers may also try to imitate people you know in an effort to extract information. If you get a text from someone claiming to be your significant other or a new colleague asking for personal information, do not offer any tidbits until you can confirm their identity.

Additionally, keep your smartphone safe by using password protection, and do not share your password.

Scams Involving Money Transfers

We have recently been notified of scams revolving around peer-to-peer payment apps such as Zelle and Venmo.

In one scenario, someone receives a text from a fraudster to alert about a suspicious transaction. Upon receiving a response text declining the transaction from the consumer, the fraudster calls the consumer, pretending to be the fraud department of the financial institution. The fraudster gains access to the consumer’s online banking account by requesting the username and one-time password, which is then used to reset the password. Upon gaining access to the online account, the fraudster registers for Zelle and attempts to send payments.

In another situation, fraudsters may steal credit cards and add them to their Venmo, Zelle, or Paypal account and send out small amounts to numerous people, changing the card on their account to their personal card, and then reach back out to all the people who received the money, stating it was a mistake and asking for it back.

To protect yourself when paying others with a money transfer app, use the following tips:

  • Only transfer money with people you know
  • If someone sends you money by mistake, ask them to cancel the transaction: The sender can request that the vendor cancel the transaction. If the person refuses, it’s probably a scam.
  • Enable additional security settings such as multi-factor authentication, requiring a PIN, or using fingerprint recognition.
  • Link your money transfer app to a credit card. Using a credit card will help protect you if you don’t get the services you paid for. Linking to a debit card or directly to your bank account does not give you added protection.

When used wisely, peer to peer payment services is a fast, easy and secure way to send and receive funds. If you’re not already using it, check out Zelle in our mobile app today!