If you own a mobile phone, it’s likely that you’ve received a mysterious text from someone who acts as if they know you. But even though you quickly figure out that the person isn’t a real acquaintance, out of politeness — or curiosity — you might end up interacting with them anyway.
“You’ll get a text message that says, ‘Hey, you coming for dinner tonight?’” says Amy Nofziger, director of victim support for the AARP Fraud Watch Network. “And you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong number.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, OK, I’m so sorry to bother you. But I hope you’re having a great day.’ And then you just start an innocent conversation.”
That’s what perpetrators of fake wrong-number text message scams are counting on. Once they’ve made a connection with an unwary target, they’ll work to become friends with that person, or sometimes even cultivate a remote romantic relationship, embellished with fake photos. It’s all a ruse, designed to get you to relax your defenses so that you’ll be susceptible to a scam, such as a cryptocurrency investment scheme.
Americans already are inundated with unwanted text messages, many of them sent by the automated apps known as bots. Security software company Robokiller reports that 12.2 billion spam texts were sent in March — an average of nearly 44 for each person in the U.S. While it’s unclear how many of those are wrong-number texts, consumer advocates warn that crooks increasingly are turning to the ruse.
How fake wrong-number text scams work
“Scammers are aware that the quickest means of communicating with a victim is by text message, so their efforts naturally follow the societal shift to SMS messaging,” says Josh Planos, a Better Business Bureau spokesperson.
Nofziger once received a text from someone who seemed to be trying to reach a veterinarian to make an urgent appointment for a sick dog. When she responded out of concern, she says, the scammer quickly transitioned to talking about crypto. She’s also received an “Oops, wrong number!” text from a likely scammer pretending to be a woman attempting to contact her yoga instructor.