Thanks to the infamous Nigerian-prince letter, most of us understand and can recognize email scams, otherwise known as phishing. Your company likely even includes phishing in annual internet security training.
But a new type of scam over text messages, called smishing, is growing. Both tactics use social engineering, or the act of using social skills to gain trust and information. This type of crime cost Americans $2.7 billion in 2018, almost double the amount lost to cybercrime the year before. Here we summarize some of the most common texting scams to look out for and ways to ensure your internet safety.
1. Bank and Financial Scams
Hackers frequently imitate financial institutions like Venmo, PayPal and traditional banks to gain access to your information. These text scams ask you to take urgent action for your account, like making a payment or detecting fraud. The message might prompt you to enter account details, call a phone number or click on a link.
Avoid taking any of these actions. If you do any of them, you run the risk of handing over bank-account information the scammer could use or sell. Make sure to report the incident to your bank, but use official reporting channels. Do not use the link or number in the text.
2. Donation Scams
It’s now the norm for charities and other nonprofit organizations to solicit donations over text message using short codes. A short code is shorter than a phone number and more convenient for mass texting. If you’ve ever donated to a campaign or fundraising organization, it’s likely you have received periodic short-code texts asking you to chip in more money or time.
But hackers have caught onto this tactic, and they can just as easily create messages that look like legitimate fundraising solicitations. You can check these senders in the US Short Code Directory to verify their authenticity.
3. Malware Attacks
A malware text message asks you to click on a link, which typically installs an app on your phone containing malware. This app can allow hackers to gather information from the rest of your phone and steal your identity. You may have received these types of messages over email, but now scammers are using text messages to install the same software on your phone.
4. Reward Scams
You might have received a text message claiming you’ve won something, like a gift card, a prize or a trip. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Usually the text asks you to click on a link to claim your prize, but this is just a way to get your personal information or con you into monthly charges.
How to Prevent Hacking
Be suspicious of any message that seems urgent, asking you to take an action before it’s too late. Never click on any link, call a phone number or take any action from a phone number you don’t know. To verify the phone number, run a reverse phone search on Spokeo to make sure it comes from a real person or company. If you find that the phone number doesn’t belong to anyone you recognize, you can block these texts in your smartphone’s privacy settings.
Katrina Ballard is a communications manager at a social policy research organization in Washington, D.C. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from American University.