A few weeks ago, I woke up to an early morning text message on my smartphone. It wasn’t my editor or a needy friend in another time zone. It was a message from myself.
“Free message: your bill has been paid before March. Thanks, here’s a little present for you,” read the text of my own phone number, pointing me to a web link.
In the past month I have received a handful of such text messages. Many Verizon customers have reported the same experience on online forums.
It was clear to me what was going on. Scammers had used internet tools to manipulate telephone networks to message me from a number they weren’t actually texting. It was the same method robocallers use to “spoof” phone calls to appear to be coming from someone legit, such as 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 fraud.
Consumers have struggled with cellphone spam for years, mainly in the form of robocalls in which scammers make incessant calls to leave fraudulent messages about late student loan payments, Internal Revenue Service audits and expired car warranties.
Only recently has cell phone fraud shifted more to texting, experts say. Spam texts from all kinds of phone numbers – and not just your own – are on the rise. In March, 11.6 billion scam messages were sent over US wireless networks, 30 percent more than in February. That surpassed robocalls, which rose 20 percent over the same period, according to an analysis by Teltech, which makes anti-spam tools for phones.
Verizon confirmed it was investigating the text issue. Monday he said the problem was solved. “We blocked the source of the recent text messaging system in which malicious parties sent fraudulent text messages to Verizon customers that appeared to come from the recipient’s own number,” said Adria Tomaszewski, a Verizon spokeswoman.
Representatives from AT&T and T-Mobile said they had not seen the same problem. But SMS spam affects all wireless subscribers, and carriers now offer online resources on how people can protect themselves and report spam.
Text scams vary widely, but often involve coughing up your personal information with messages disguised as fake parcel delivery tracking updates, or information about health products and online banking. Their rise has been fueled in part by the fact that messages are so effortless to send, Teltech said. In addition, industry and government efforts to counter robocalls could encourage scammers to switch to text messaging.
“Scammers are always looking for the next big thing,” said Giulia Porter, vice president at Teltech. “Spam texts just increase much more drastically than spam calls.”
Here’s what to watch out for with text messages and what to do.
What spam text looks like
By far the most common text scam is the message masquerading as a company offering a shipping update for a package, such as UPS, FedEx or Amazon, according to Teltech.
In the past week, I’ve received messages stating that a Samsung TV – a big-ticket item intended to get my attention – 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 a fraudulent text:
Scam texts usually come from phone numbers that are 10 digits or longer. Genuine commercial entities generally send messages from four-, five-, or six-digit numbers.
The message contains misspelled words intended to bypass the wireless carrier’s spam filters.
The links in a scam text often look strange. Instead of a traditional web link consisting of “www.websitename.com”, they are web links containing phrases or phrases, such as droppoundsketo.com. This practice, called URL masking, involves using a fake web link that directs you to another web address that asks for your personal information.
How to protect yourself?
First of all, never click on a link or file in a suspicious message.
Do not respond to such a message. Even typing “STOP” tells a scammer that your phone number is active.
To report a scammy text, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile offer the same number to forward the messages to: 7726. After forwarding, the carrier asks for the phone number where the message came from.
When text spam becomes overwhelming, spam filtering apps like TextKiller from Teltech are meant to help. The app, which blocks spam messages for $4 a month, scans messages from phone numbers that aren’t in your address book. If the text is detected as spam, it will be filtered into a folder labeled ‘Junk’.
TextKiller was thorough – maybe too thorough. It successfully captured five spam messages in five days, but it also erroneously filtered out two legitimate messages, including a response 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 interruptions from spam texts. On iPhones, you can open the Settings app, tap Messages, and enable an option to “filter unknown senders.” That puts messages from numbers not in your phone book in a separate messages folder. On Android phones, you can open the messaging app, enter the spam message settings, and enable “block unknown senders.”
Finally, both iPhones and Android devices offer the ability to access a message’s settings and prevent a specific number from contacting you.
What it comes down to:
There’s a moral to this story: We can help prevent spam from flooding our phones if we stop sharing our phone numbers with people we don’t fully trust. That includes the cashier at a 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 will 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 Google Voice, which we treat like a phone number for a burner.
That way, the next time a scammer tries to text you, it won’t come from your own number.
This post Text spam is on the rise. Here’s how to spot it and what to do
was original published at “https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/06/technology/personaltech/text-scam-spam.html”