The word “smishing” comes from combining “SMS” — for short message service, the technology behind texting — with “phishing,” the practice of stealing 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's 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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For example, you might get what looks like a text from a company you do business with, such as your bank, a mobile provider, or a tech service like Netflix or PayPal. It claims your account has expired or been locked on some pretext, maybe suspicious activity, 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.
Variations abound. A scam text might say you've won a lottery prize or a gift card, or promise a 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.
The coronavirus pandemic unleashed a raft of new schemes, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Scam texts offer bogus treatments, stimulus funds, supposed government health updates or warnings that you've been exposed to the virus.
Most common of all are messages purportedly from the likes of Amazon, FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service about an impending package or shipment snafu. Delivery scams accounted for more than a quarter of spam texts in 2021, according to a February 2022 report from Robokiller, a company that provides call-blocking and other phone security services.
Smishing now outstrips robocalls as a scam tool, RoboKiller reports, with bad actors hitting send on more 87.8 billion fraudulent texts in 2021 — up 58 percent from the previous year — compared to 72.2 billion crooked calls. Those phishy messages cost consumers nearly $10.1 billion, the company estimates.
- 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 FCC.
- The text offers coronavirus-related testing, treatment or financial aid, or requests personal data for contact tracing.