How to Spot a Smishing Scam

11 Nov


According to a Pew report from 2011, mobile users aged 18-24 share an average of 109.5 SMS messages per day. With such high levels of activity, it’s hardly surprising that there is room for opportunistic scammers to slip through the net. With mobile phones generally carrying fewer security measures than desktop computers, the best protection against scammers is your own vigilance.

The most common SMS scams are variations on two themes: getting users to install malicious spyware with the aim of stealing their identity, or persuading them to use a premium-rate SMS app (usually concealed within legitimate – or legit-looking – apps). 

In the case of the latter scam, few users notice the premium charges applied to their account until they received a bill. It’s notoriously difficult to pursue refunds from network providers because opt-in laws surrounding SMS communications mean that victims have actively agreed to use the software at the premium rate. If ever there was an argument for reading those boring terms and conditions…

Collectively, these practices are known as ‘smishing’ – or ‘SMS fishing.’ The good news is, there are lots of tell-tale signs to help you spot smishing scams, and a few other measures you can take to protect yourself. Cast your eye over our tips for avoiding getting scammed by smishermen:

If it looks too good to be true it probably is

If free food looks too delicious to be free, it’s most likely bait. Even major brands tend to offer relatively small incentives for engaging with them, so if you’re getting text messages purporting to be from Starbucks and offering you thousands of dollars for texting a number, it’s well worth checking their website before doing anything. Maybe it’s legit, maybe it isn’t – just don’t rely on the information in the text message alone. If this unbelievably generous special offer is real, the marketing department will make sure it’s all over the internet.

If they’re in a hurry, you should worry

It’s true that time-sensitive offers are just part of the marketer’s arsenal, so not all text messages that generate a sense of urgency are suspicious. But if they’re trying to get you to respond within a couple of minutes rather than a few hours, it’s because they don’t want you to root around for corroboration. Of course, that’s precisely what you should do. Just as overly-generous promotions require some further research, so do overly-urgent ones.

Treat mobile security as seriously as desktop security

For some reason, cellphone users lower their guard when it comes to protecting their device. There are a number of steps you can take to minimize risk. Don’t use third party websites to download apps – stick with the official marketplace for your device. Carefully examine any links you receive – whether via email or SMS – and if you have any doubts, research the url in Google before clicking the link. Also, you might want to lock your device down by tightening the security settings or installing security software.

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