A few weeks ago I woke up early in the morning with a text message on my smartphone. He 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 for March. Thanks, here’s a little gift for you, “read the text from my own phone number, directing me to a web link.
In the last month I have received a handful of such texts. In online forums, many Verizon customers report the same experience.
I knew what was happening. The fraudsters had used Internet tools to manipulate telephone networks to send me messages from a number from which they did not actually send text messages. This was the same method that operators used to “trick” phone calls to make them look like they came from a legitimate neighbor. If I clicked on the web link, I would probably be asked for personal information such as a credit card number that a fraudster could use to defraud.
Consumers have been battling cell phone spam for years, mostly in the form of calls from fraudsters who keep calling to leave fraudulent messages about late student loan payments, Internal Revenue Service audits and expired car warranties.
Only recently have mobile phone scams focused more on text messaging, experts said. Spam messages from all kinds of phone numbers – and not just your own – are on the rise. In March, 11.6 billion fraudulent messages were sent to US wireless networks, up 30 percent from February. This is ahead of automatic calls, which rose 20 percent over the same period, according to an analysis by Teltech, which makes anti-spam tools for phones.
Verizon has confirmed that it is investigating the text problem. On Monday, he said he had fixed the problem. “We blocked the source of the recent text messaging scheme, in which bad participants sent fraudulent text messages to Verizon customers who appeared to come from the recipient’s own number,” said Adria Tomaszewski, a Verizon spokeswoman.
Representatives of AT&T and T-Mobile said they had not seen the same problem. But text spam affects all wireless subscribers, and operators are now offering resources online on how people can protect themselves and report spam.
Text scams vary widely, but often involve forcing you to cough up your personal information with messages disguised as follow-up updates on counterfeit package deliveries, or information about health products and online banking. Their rise has been fueled in part by the fact that messages are so easy to send, Teltech said. In addition, the efforts of the entire industry and the government to intercept robotic calls may prompt fraudsters to switch to text messaging.
“Fraudsters are always looking for the next big thing,” said Julia Porter, vice president of Teltech. “Spam texts are simply increasing at a much more drastic rate than spam calls.”
Here’s what to look out for in text scams – and what you can do.
What spam text looks like
So far, the most common text scam is a message posing as a company offering a package delivery update, such as UPS, FedEx or Amazon, according to Teltech.
Last week, I received messages saying that a Samsung TV – a big ticket product designed to get my attention – could not be delivered. Another advertises an anti-aging skin cream. Another message advertises the benefits of a product that cures brain fog.
Beware of these telltale signs of a deceptive text:
Scam texts usually come from phone numbers that are 10 or more digits long. Authentic entities usually send messages of four-, five- or six-digit numbers.
The message contains misspelled words that were intended to circumvent the wireless spam filters.
The links in the scam text often seem strange. Instead of a traditional web link made up of www.websitename.com, they are web links that contain sentences or phrases, such as droppoundsketo.com. This practice, called URL masking, involves using a fake web link that directs you to a different web address that asks for your personal information.
How to protect yourself
First and foremost, never click on a link or file in a suspicious message.
Definitely do not respond to such a message. Even typing “STOP” will show a fraudster that your phone number is active.
To report fraudulent text, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile offer the same message forwarding number to: 7726. After forwarding, the operator asks for the phone number from which the message came.
If text spam becomes overwhelming, spam filtering applications such as Teltech’s TextKiller are designed to help. The app, which blocks spam texts for $ 4 a month, scans messages coming from phone numbers that aren’t in your address book. If the text is detected as spam, it is filtered into a folder labeled “Junk”.
TextKiller was in-depth – perhaps too in-depth. It successfully caught five spam messages in five days, but also erroneously filtered two legitimate messages, including a Verizon response 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 the iPhone, unless spam has become really unbearable for you.
Teltech said that fake positive messages for messages marked as spam are rare and that customers can share feedback to train TextKiller’s accuracy.
A more practical solution is to use free tools to minimize interruptions from spam texts. On iPhone, you can open the Settings app, tap messages, and enable the “unknown sender filtering” option. This puts messages from numbers that are not in your phonebook in a separate message folder. On Android phones, you can open the messaging app, enter spam settings, and enable “unknown sender blocking.”
Finally, both iPhones and Android devices include the ability to open message settings and block a specific number from contacting you.
There is a moral in 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. This includes the cashier at the retail store who asks for our phone number to get a discount, or an app or website that wants our numbers when we register an account. Who knows where our numbers end up in the hands of traders?
It is a better idea for all of us to carry a second set of numbers that can be created with free internet calling apps like Google Voice, which we treat as a phone number to record.
That way, the next time a scammer tries to send you text from you, it won’t come from your own number.