Day and night, fraudulent texts messages bombard our mobile phones. The cybercriminals to blame for these illicit texts pretend to be from government agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service, megaretailers like Amazon and Costco, and even major banks.
Don't let these crooks steal your money or data — or worse, infect your smartphone with malicious software. Let's start with the key ways to stay safe:
1. Do not respond to suspicious text messages. Don't even reply by messaging “STOP” or “NO."
2. Do not click on hyperlinks or attachments in suspect messages.
3. Take steps to filter unwanted messages or block them before they reach you.
A text rife with red flags
Below is a scam text still circulating.
Can you spot the red flags in this scam text?
1. Slogan not pertinent — and no need for a space needed before exclamation point.
2. Did the scammer mean “phase?”
3. Missing dollar sign.
4. Presidents-elect do not control the country’s purse strings. Hyphen is missing in the title, too.
5. A head-scratcher: Does the “assistant stimulus” report to the stimulus?
6. Stimulus relief checks for individuals were not distributed to high-income taxpayers, so everybody was not eligible.
7. This is likely a malicious link. Never click on these.
Losses hit $86 million last year
Across the U.S., $86 million was reported lost in 2020 from frauds originating in scam texts, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a consumer protection agency. Last year the 334,524 such complaints equaled an average of 916 reports a day.
In 5 percent of overall cases, complainants said they lost money; their median loss was $800.
Meantime the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates mobile phone providers, heard about 14,000 complaints about scam texts last year. The roughly 6,900 reports so far in 2021 (through late May) suggest the 2020 total will be surpassed this year.
Cybercrooks aren't stupid
Savvy consumers delete suspicious texts faster than you can say “poppycock.” Yet cybercrooks go to great lengths to fool us. They masquerade as well-known entities, such as Federal Express, another firm whose name has been hijacked. Sometimes criminals even personalize texts, addressing you by name to evoke an air of authenticity.
The crooks play mind games, too: They fire off tempting texts about supposed opportunities for big money. They lie by saying a consumer is owed a refund. Or they purport to be a package delivery worker who is eager to hand off your parcel and asks that you click a link to confirm when you'll be home.
The fear factor
Criminals also capitalize on the fear factor, asserting in texts that you could lose money, have been accused of a crime, or will be mortified when embarrassing details about your life are exposed. The COVID-19 pandemic — and trillions of federal dollars unleashed to address the crisis — triggered an array of scam texts about coronavirus cures, surveys and special offers, the FCC says. Several of these hinged on pandemic relief dollars, one falsely offering $30,000 in funds from the “FCC Financial Care Center,” which does not even exist.