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Beware of These Smartphone Scams

Don't expect the mobile mayhem to end anytime soon

scam alert smartphone shield

Eric Nyffler

Be prepared: Scammers target smartphones every day via constantly evolving cons.

En español | Love your smartphone? So do scammers. With more than 1.5 billion smartphones forecast to be sold worldwide in 2016, you can expect more mobile mayhem this year. The reigning ruses include the following:


Nearly 70 percent of smartphone texters say they receive unwanted spam messages, studies show. And people are three times more likely to respond to spam received by cellphone than when using a desktop or laptop computer. That's particularly dangerous because more than a quarter of text-message spam—such as free gift cards, cheap medications and similar text-message come-ons—is intended to criminally defraud you, compared with only about 10 percent of spam arriving by email. These texts often lead you to shady websites that install malware on your phone or otherwise seek to steal sensitive details for identity theft.

What to know: Don't click on links or follow instructions to text "stop" or "no" to prevent future texts. This only confirms to scammers that yours is a live, active number for future spam. Use and regularly update anti-malware software designed for smartphones; ask your phone's manufacturer or service provider for recommendations. Forward suspicious texts to 7726 ("SPAM" on most keypads) to alert your carrier to those numbers, and then delete them.

The one-ring con

In a longtime calling scam, crooks leave voice messages asking you to call back a specific number because you have won a sweepstakes or have an undeliverable package. Now they simply program calls to smartphones to ring only once or disconnect when you answer. Your curiosity over a missed-call alert results in you spending upwards of $30 to call back. The reason: Despite a seemingly American area code, the call is to an international phone number—often in the Caribbean—that charges a premium connection fee and per-minute rate, which is extended through long holds and frequent transfers.

You might also find charges crammed onto your bill with such innocuous language as "special services," "Internet advertising" or "minimum monthly usage fee."

What to know: Beware of any unfamiliar calls—one ring or otherwise—with area codes 268, 284, 473, 649, 664, 767, 809, 829, 849 or 876.

Bank messages

These text messages claim to be from your bank or credit card company and say there's a problem with your account. You're instructed to click an included link, which leads you to a look-alike, scammer-run website that seeks your name, account number and online log-in credentials.

What to know: If there's really an account problem, you might get an email, but it will include your name and a portion of your account number. Or your bank or credit card company may telephone you with a fraud alert, but it won't ask for any personal data.

Finally, keep in mind that smartphones are prime targets for old-fashioned theft. Don't let yours reveal your secrets if it winds up in the wrong hands. Always protect it with a strong PIN. And don't use it to store credit card and account log-in information—or anything else potentially compromising.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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