Text Spam Is on the Rise. Here’s How to Spot It and What to Do

A few weeks ago, I woke up to an early morning text message on my smartphone. It wasn’t my editor or a friend in need in a different time zone. It was a message from myself.

“Free Message: Your March bill is paid. Thanks, here’s a little present for you,” the text of my own phone number read, pointing me to a web link.

In the last month I have received a handful of such texts. In online forums, many Verizon customers have reported the same experience.

It was clear to me what was happening. The scammers had used internet tools to manipulate phone networks and send me messages from a number they weren’t actually texting. It was the same method robocallers use to “spoof” phone calls to make them appear to come from someone legitimate, like a neighbor. If I had clicked on the web link, I would most likely have been asked for personal information, such as a credit card number, that a scammer could use to commit fraud.

Consumers have struggled with cell phone spam for years, mostly in the form of robocalls with scammers who call incessantly to leave fraudulent messages about late student loan payments, Internal Revenue Service audits, and expired car warranties. .

Recently, mobile phone fraud has shifted more towards text messages, experts said. Spam text messages from all kinds of phone numbers, and not just yours, are on the rise. In March, 11.6 billion fraudulent messages were sent on US wireless networks, a 30 percent increase from February. That outpaced robocalls, which were up 20 percent in the same period, according to an analysis by Teltech, which makes anti-spam tools for phones.

Verizon confirmed that it was investigating the text issue. On Monday, he said that he had fixed the problem. “We have blocked the source of the recent text messaging scheme in which bad actors sent fraudulent text messages to Verizon customers that appeared to come from the recipient’s own number,” said Adria Tomaszewski, a Verizon spokeswoman.

Representatives from AT&T and T-Mobile said they hadn’t seen the same problem. But text spam affects all wireless subscribers, and providers now offer online resources on how people can protect themselves and report spam.

Text message scams vary widely, but often involve you giving away your personal data with messages disguised as tracking updates for bogus package deliveries or information about online banking and health products. Its rise has been fueled in part by the fact that messages are so easy to send, Teltech said. Additionally, industry-wide and government efforts to crack down on robocalls may be pushing scammers to switch to text messages.

“Fraudsters are always looking for the next big thing,” said Giulia Porter, vice president of Teltech. “Spam text messages are increasing at a much more drastic rate than spam calls.”

Here’s what to watch out for with text scams and what you can do.

By far the most common text scam is the message that impersonates a company offering a shipping upgrade on a package, such as UPS, FedEx or Amazon, according to Teltech.

In the last week, I received messages saying that a Samsung TV could not be delivered, an expensive item meant to catch my eye. Another advertised an anti-aging skin cream. Another message touted the benefits of a brain fog cure product.

Watch for these telltale signs of a scam text message:

  • Fraudulent text messages usually come from phone numbers that are 10 digits or more. Authentic business entities typically send messages from four, five or six digit numbers.

  • The message contains misspelled words that were intended to bypass the wireless service providers’ spam filters.

  • Links in scam text often look strange. Instead of a traditional web link consisting of “www.websitename.com”, they are web links that contain sentences or phrases, such as droppoundsketo.com. This practice, called URL masking, involves the use of a fake web link that directs you to a different web address that asks for your personal information.

First of all, never click on a link or file in a suspicious message.

Definitely don’t respond to that message either. Even typing “STOP” will tell a scammer that your phone number is active.

To report a scam text message, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile offer the same number to forward messages: 7726. After forwarding, the carrier asks for the phone number the message came from.

If text spam becomes overwhelming, spam filtering apps like Teltech’s TextKiller are bound to help. The app, which blocks unwanted text messages for $4 a month, scans messages from phone numbers that aren’t in your address book. If the text is detected as spam, it is filtered to a folder labeled “Junk”.

TextKiller was thorough, perhaps too thorough. He successfully detected five spam messages in five days, but also mistakenly filtered two legitimate messages, including a reply from Verizon thanking me for reporting the spam and a message from an AT&T spokesperson. So I wouldn’t recommend paying $4 a month for this app, which is available only for iPhone, unless the text spam has become really unbearable for you.

Teltech said that false positives for messages marked as spam occurred in rare cases and that customers could share feedback to train TextKiller’s accuracy.

A more practical solution is to use free tools to minimize interruptions from spam messages. On iPhones, you can open the Settings app, tap Messages, and enable an option to “filter unknown senders.” That puts messages from numbers that aren’t in your phone book into a separate message folder. On Android phones, you can open the messages app, enter the spam message settings, and enable “block unknown senders”.

Finally, both iPhones and Android devices include the ability to open a message’s settings and block a specific number from contacting you.

There’s a moral to this story: We can help prevent spam from flooding our phones by stopping sharing our phone numbers with people we don’t fully trust. That includes the cashier at a retail store asking for our phone number to get a discount, or an app or website asking for our digits when we sign up for an account. Who knows where our digits will ultimately end up after they reach the hands of marketers?

A better idea is for everyone to carry a second set of digits, which can be created with free Internet calling apps like Google Voice, which we treat like a throwaway phone number.

That way, the next time a scammer tries to text you, it won’t come from your own number.

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