Scam Text Messages: Recognize and Report

Feb 21, 2024 | Crypto Scam Defense, Smishing | 0 comments

Have you ever received a message from an unknown phone number promising incredible rewards or urgent requests? This tactic, known as smishing, is a sophisticated scam designed to steal your money or confidential information, such as banking details, passwords, identification numbers, or even the private keys to your crypto wallet. 

Smishing takes advantage of the simplicity and speed of text messaging, making it an effective tool for scammers. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Report, in 2020, smishing scams led to losses exceeding $54.2 million, affecting over 200 million people worldwide.

Understanding how smishing operates is crucial to protecting yourself from becoming another statistic. In this post, we’ll talk about how smishing works, identify key signs to recognize these suspicious text messages and explain how to report these scams to the appropriate authorities.

What is Smishing?

Smishing is a cyber-attack that targets individuals through text messages, combining the terms “SMS” and “phishing” into one. This type of attack involves cybercriminals sending false text messages designed to trick victims into revealing personal or financial information, clicking on malicious links, or downloading harmful software. 

Unlike email phishing, where many are on guard, the immediate and personal nature of text messages means people are less cautious, making smishing particularly effective.

How Smishing Works

A crucial aspect of smishing’s success lies in its exploitation of psychological tactics: 

  1. Scammers build trust by masquerading as legitimate entities, creating a context that seems relevant and urgent to the person being targeted. 
  2. This sense of urgency, combined with a personalized approach, lowers the person’s guard. 
  3. By playing on emotions such as fear, curiosity, or excitement, attackers can push individuals to act rapidly, ignoring their better judgment.

The effectiveness of smishing is further highlighted by data from SMS Comparison, noting that 95% of text messages are read and responded to in less than five minutes. This high engagement rate means that people are more likely to interact with smishing attempts quickly, often without the skepticism they might apply to email messages. 

Smishing attacks begin with a message that appears to come from a trusted source—like a bank, tech company, or even a cryptocurrency exchange—containing a link that leads to a fraudulent site. Once a victim enters their information on this site, attackers gain unauthorized access to their accounts or personal data, showcasing the critical importance of recognizing and avoiding these deceptive tactics.

A man using a phnoe and credit card

Types of Smishing Attacks

Smishing scams are as varied as they are ingenious, exploiting a wide range of scenarios to trick victims. Here’s a closer look at some common types:

Account Verification Scams 

These start with a message claiming to be from a well-known company or service, warning of unauthorized activity, or asking for account verification. Clicking the link in the message leads to a fraudulent page designed to steal login credentials. For example, you might receive a text saying:

  • We detected a login attempt from an unfamiliar location. If this wasn’t you, please secure your account here: [malicious link].

Prize or Lottery Scams

Victims are told they’ve won a prize and must provide personal information, pay a fee, or click a malicious link to claim it. This can result in financial loss or identity theft. A common lure is:

  • James, you have $450 in Amazon Rewards credit: [malicious link] See what you can claim before it expires on 05/22. 

Tech Support Scams

Messages alerting to a problem with a device or account, urging the user to contact a provided tech support number. This could lead to unauthorized charges or access to your device. One scare tactic used is:

  • System rebooting in 5 minutes! All photos will be deleted and can never be recovered because we detected a virus on your mobile. Stop this NOW: [malicious link].

Bank Fraud Alerts

These messages seem to be communications from your bank about suspicious transactions, prompting you to click a link or call a number to verify transactions—a tactic designed to capture your financial information. An example message:

  • BANK OF AMERICA: Your transaction of $5,500 will be automatically approved. To deny the transfer or report suspicious activity, please click: [malicious link].

Tax Scams 

Particularly around tax season, messages claiming to be from tax agencies offer refunds or threaten penalties for unpaid taxes, seeking personal or financial details. For instance: 

  • Your IRS tax refund is pending acceptance. Must accept within 24 hours: [malicious link].

Service Cancellation 

Messages to inform you that a subscription or service is about to be canceled due to payment issues, directing you to a phishing page when you try to “resolve” the issue. A typical message reads: 

  • We tried to deliver your parcel, but you weren’t in, and there was no safe place to leave it. Visit: [malicious link] to choose a delivery date.

Emergency Texts 

Preying on concern for loved ones, these messages may claim a family member is in urgent need of help due to an emergency, asking for money transfers or personal information. Variants include fake family member pleas, hospital or police impersonations, or even kidnapper claims, like: 

  • URGENT Your grandson was arrested last night in Mexico. Need bail money immediately Western Union Wire $9,500: [link].

Each type of smishing scam uses specific psychological triggers—fear, urgency, or the lure of a reward—to manipulate people into making hasty decisions that can lead to the loss of money, personal information, or both.

Dollars bills

How To Recognize Smishing Attacks

Recognizing scam text messages, particularly smishing attacks, is crucial in today’s digital age, where scammers continually refine their strategies. Here are actionable tips to help you recognize potential scams and protect yourself from becoming a victim:

  • Relevance: If a message seems unrelated to your recent activities or mentions services and accounts you don’t use, it’s a warning sign. For example, receiving alerts from a bank where you don’t have an account should immediately raise suspicions.
  • Urgency: Scammers often create a false sense of urgency to provoke immediate action. Be wary of texts that press you to act swiftly, such as claiming your account will be closed, or you’ll face penalties if you don’t respond promptly. Always take a moment to verify the authenticity of such claims independently.
  • Sender’s Number: A genuine message from a reputable organization usually comes from a recognized number, not an obscure or shortened one. If the message comes from an unfamiliar number or one that seems unusually short, be cautious.
  • Language Quality: Look out for poor grammar, spelling errors, or awkward phrasing. Professional entities have dedicated teams to ensure their communication is clear and error-free. Mistakes in the text are often telltale signs of a scam.
  • Suspicious Links: Be extremely cautious with messages containing links, especially shortened ones like “bit.ly” links. Scammers cover up malicious links to look trustworthy at a glance. Before clicking, hover over the link (if possible) to preview the URL, or simply avoid clicking altogether.

How To Report Smishing Scams

If you’ve ever been targeted by a smishing scam, it’s crucial not just to protect yourself but also to help others by reporting the incident. Here’s how you can take action:

  1. Report to Your Carrier: Start by alerting your phone carrier. Forward the smishing text to SPAM (7726), a service set up by carriers to collect data on scam messages and help prevent future scams.
  1. Report to the FTC: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plays a significant role in combating these scams. Submit a report at reportfraud.ftc.gov or call their helpline at 1-877-382-4357. Your report aids in their efforts to track and shut down fraudulent operations.
  1. Report Compromised PII: If your personal identifiable information (PII) has been compromised, act quickly by filing a police report and freezing your accounts to prevent identity theft. Recovering from fraud might be challenging, but these steps are vital to safeguarding your financial health.

Explore the crucial role of reporting fraud in our blog post. It offers valuable tips to protect and assist others. Read here.

  1. Report to Cryptoscam Defense Network (CDN) Community: Share details of your encounter with CDN, such as the scammer’s name or phone number. Your input can alert others to potential scams, contributing to a broader effort to halt the spread of fraudulent activities. 

Recover from a crypto scam with our step-by-step guide. Take action and protect yourself by reading our post here.

Your proactive measures play a crucial part in a collective effort to combat fraud. By reporting these scams, you help disrupt the operations of fraudsters, making it harder for them to target others in the future. 

Conclusion

The Avast Cyber Threat Report reveals that phishing and smishing attacks have surged by 40% in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the previous year. This rise underlines the popularity of SMS for cybercriminals, who exploit the trust people have in text communications from banks, businesses, and institutions.

Protecting yourself from smishing is critical, especially to secure the private keys of your crypto wallet. We at the Cryptoscam Defense Network believe that it’s not just about preventing financial losses; it’s about fostering a secure digital environment for everyone.

We Want to Hear From You!

The fight against cryptocurrency scams is a community effort, and your insights are invaluable. Have you encountered a scam, or do you have questions about navigating the complex world of digital currency? Maybe you have suggestions or want to share your story to help others. Whatever your experience, we’re here to listen and support you.

Reach out to us at hello@cryptoscamdefensenetwork.com. Share your stories, ask questions, or make comments. Your voice is crucial in building a resilient and informed community. Together, we can improve our defenses and promote a safer digital space for all.

Be a part of the change. Your story matters.

Photos via Pexels.