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What are Text Message Scams?


In a world where smartphones may as well be fused to our palms, it was never going to take scammers long to start taking advantage of this technological phenomenon. The threat of text message scams goes on, and doesn’t appear to be dying off anytime soon.

What is a Text Message Scam?

Text message scams are a form of Phishing – also known as ‘Smishing’ – which involves a fraudster, posing as a legitimate company or service, attempting to dupe a smartphone user into revealing personally identifiable information (PII).

As with other types of Phishing, such as those carried out via email and telephone, the scammer’s ultimate goal is to harvest crucial data in order to exploit the victim’s identity and finances, committing crimes such as fraud and financial theft.

Not just limited to SMS, Smishing can arrive via popular messaging platforms including WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger, to name but a few.

How to Identify a Text Message Scam

The best way to steer clear of Smishing scams is by…well, steering clear of them altogether. Being able to identify a suspicious text is paramount when it comes to staying safe; so remain watchful for any common signs like:

  • Sense of Urgency. Scammers don’t like waiting around – they want you to act NOW! And so to get your attention and elicit a fast response, they’ll notify you of an ‘emergency’ situation that must be resolved right away. BE AWARE.
  • Grammar & Spelling. Organizations CARE about their reputation. So, if a text message claiming to be from an authentic source, such as your bank, is poorly constructed, with bad wording and sentence structure, then consider it fishy – or is it ‘Smishy’?
  • Vagueness. Beyond the presentation of the text message body, people who KNOW you should always use your actual name during correspondence. It’s pretty standard stuff. So, if your text begins with “Dear customer” or “Dear Sir/Madam” – why has your name become so hard to remember all of a sudden?
  • Sensitive Info/Payment Request. This should be suspicious from the get-go. To be clear, legitimate firms do not directly reach out by text, phone or email for logins, personal details, or payments. With banks, for instance, they should never ask for logins or pins; direct you to services/apps other than their own; organize for someone to collect debit/credit cards; ask you to consider making investments; or carry out test transactions.
  • Suspicious Number. If the text was sent from an unknown number, this should be enough to raise an eyebrow, especially as legitimate companies will protect their Sender IDs using actual names like Lloyds and HSBC. Sender ID names can be hijacked, however, so don’t let a name alone fool you.
  • Links. Smishing texts usually contain links that lead – unbeknownst to the receiver, the scammer hopes – to something malicious like fake websites and malware. If you have doubts about the legitimacy of a text, it’s best to simply avoid tapping the link altogether. 

How to Prevent Text Message Attacks

It’s often easier to prevent a bad situation from taking place than it is to work your way out of one. Here’s a number of ways to keep ahead of scammers and ensure that your data, finances and identity remains secure:

  • Trust Your Gut. When something doesn’t quite ring true, we can usually sense it somehow. Get in the habit of LISTENING to that feeling when it comes to texts – because it could save you a lot of stress and heartache.
  • Don’t Rush. Just because a text is urging you to react right this instant doesn’t mean that you have no choice but to lose your mind and frantically start clicking away. Instead, do this: breathe, sit back, and take a moment to think.
  • Don’t Give Out Your Details. As we already covered above, NEVER give out any private information either by responding to the text or through any links provided. Remember, reputable organizations do NOT ask customers to submit logins or any other sensitive data.
  • Check Sender Number/ID. As we also touched on above, any numbers or ID names that sound unfamiliar or strange should be treated with suspicion.
  • Investigate the Issue. When faced with an ‘urgent issue’, do some investigating – only in a smarter, safer way. Ignore the text, and instead go through official contact channels. Such as those on the company’s OFFICIAL website, to verify the facts.
  • Ask Your Peers. Why not get a second opinion on a potential Smishing text? Ask a friend, family member or co-worker how they feel about it. More scrutiny, better decision-making.
  • Don’t Reply. If you’re harbouring doubts, don’t be tempted to reply to the text. While replying may not be inherently harmful, your response could alert a potential scammer that the number is in use. Prompting them to start bombarding you with further scam texts. 

Install a Web Safety App. Cyber security apps, such as Total WebShield, were developed to defend users against real-time threats, including those related to Smishing scams. Features include malicious website blocking, along with tracking and pop-up blocking to shield security and privacy.