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Smishing


VIDEO: 3 Ways to Avoid Smishing

The word “smishing” comes from combining “SMS” — for short message service, the technology behind texting — with “phishing,” the practice of trying to steal personal or financial information through deceptive communications, primarily emails. Basically, it's phishing by another means, namely text messages on mobile devices.

Like phishing emails, smishing texts are social-engineering scams that aim to manipulate people into turning over sensitive data such as Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and account passwords or providing access to a business computer system. They rely on persuading you that the sender is a familiar or trusted source and that urgent action is needed to secure a benefit, resolve a problem or avert a threat.  

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They might come from a mobile provider, or a service like Netflix or PayPal, claiming your account has expired or been locked, and you need to provide personal information or click on a link to reactivate it. That gives the scammers means to steal your money or identity or to infect your device with malware.

Bogus bank fraud warnings were the most common type of text-based scams reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2022 — up nearly 20-fold since 2019. These texts will often appear to be from major banks like Wells Fargo or Bank of America, with urgent messages for customers to verify a transaction, according to the agency. That gives the scammers means to steal your money or identity or to infect your device with malware

Also extremely common: fake delivery-related text messages, purportedly from the likes of Amazon, FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service about an impending package or a shipment snafu. You may be sent to a website, where you’re asked to verify your address and perhaps pay a small “redelivery fee.” 

But variations abound. A scam text might say you've won a lottery prize or a gift card, or promise a break on break on student loan debt. It could look like an alert from a government agency such as Social Security or the IRS or link to a phony invoice or cancellation notice for a product or service you supposedly bought. 

Warning signs

  • A text message requests personal information, such as your Social Security number or an online account password.
  • The message asks you to click a link to resolve a problem, win a prize or access a service.
  • The message claims to be from a government agency. Government bodies almost never initiate contact with someone by phone or text, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

How to protect yourself from this scam

Consider using tools that filter or block unwanted messages or unknown senders: 

  • Your mobile device may have built-in spam protection. Check the settings on its messaging app.
  • Most major wireless carriers offer call-blocking services.
  • Some call-blocking apps (see “More resources” below) also filter out junk texts.
  • Don’t reply, even if the message says you can “text STOP” to avoid more messages. That tells the scammer or spammer your number is active and can be sold to other bad actors.
  • Don’t assume a text is legitimate because it comes from a familiar phone number or area code. Spammers use caller ID spoofing to make it appear the text is from a trusted or local source.
  • Never click on links in suspicious texts. They could install malware on your device or take you to a site that does the same.
  • Contact the company or organization that supposedly sent the text, using a phone number or website you know to be legitimate, if you think it might concern a genuine problem.       
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More resources

Forward spam and scam texts to 7726 (SPAM), the spam reporting service run by the mobile industry. This sends the text to your carrier so it can investigate.  

  • Report suspected smishing to the FCC
  • The website of CTIA, a Washington-based trade association that represents the U.S. wireless industry, has lists of apps for Android and Apple devices that block robocalls and spam texts.

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.