Scammers are up to their old tricks, but they are using the newer ways of text messaging to target victims.
Smishing, also known as SMS phishing, involves a perpetrator acting like someone they’re not to gain access to sensitive data like Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and bank account numbers. Smishing attacks increased by an astonishing 300% during the pandemic. Since many of us became more reliant on our phones for payments, online banking, shopping, and telemedicine during this time, it’s no wonder that these fraud attempts are on the rise. Scammers have learned how to exploit all of those areas, feeding on their victims’ fears in order to line their pockets.
Internet crime, or using the internet to commit fraud, is nothing new. People who are savvy about spotting phishing emails need to use the same skills to spot smishing texts or phone calls. Here’s what you need to know.
How the Scam Works
You get a startling phone call or text. If it’s a phone call, the person calling claims to be from a government agency, a bank, a hospital, a big tech company like Amazon, or even the police. Understandably, you might be worried about owing money or even being arrested. But you won’t likely need the service of a bail bond agency, which typically would pledge money on your behalf to facilitate your release pending trial. The scammers hope that the contact with an agency of authority will be enough to scare you out of your hard-earned money.
The warning comes in various forms, such as:
- A bank account, credit card, or Amazon account has been locked due to suspicious activity and they need information from you to re-open your account.
- You were caught on camera committing a crime such as a minor traffic violation and need to pay money to avoid jail time.
- Tech support from Microsoft or Apple explains that they’ve found a problem with your computer or mobile device and it needs an urgent fix.
- A government agency has your COVID test results ready or states that you have more stimulus money coming to you.
At first blush, the calls may seem legitimate. The person calling knows your full name, where you live, or even the color of your car. Text messages may appear to be from banks, government agencies, or familiar shopping sites like Amazon. You’re instructed to click a link or give a few bits of personal information for them to solve the problem… or so you’re led to believe. It’s not until later that you discover that there was never any threat to your personal freedom, bank account, computer, or personal information — other than the scammer on the other end of the line. Now, you’re out a whole lot of money and may have had your identity stolen.
After the CARES Act was passed on March 27, 2020, scammers got busy. They knew that people either received aid from the $2 trillion relief package or wanted to get their hands on some of that stimulus money. Scams became extremely clever, looking as innocent as possible. One successful smishing scam was a simple text stating, “Did you get all of your stimulus money? Find out by clicking on this link.” Clicking on the link led victims to a fake website designed to look like that of a government agency. Other text messages talk about unemployment benefits during the pandemic, vaccine availability, or test results. There are even some that claim that you were exposed to someone with COVID-19. While the tactics varied, they all shared a common goal: to gain access to your private information in an effort to defraud you.
The pandemic also led to a huge slowdown in mail delivery. Smishing scams may claim to be from the post office. They state you have unclaimed packages. Just click on the link or download an app and all will be well, they try to tell you. In fact, the post office never texts customers about unclaimed packages. Scams may also claim to be from Amazon or another popular shopping site like Costco, stating that suspicious activity was noted on your account, such as a huge shopping order placed for thousands of dollars. While you may be worried your accounts have been compromised, Amazon never contacts customers like this. If you’re ever in doubt, check your actual Amazon account for suspicious activity. If there’s none to be found, you can be sure it’s a scam.
Never click on the links on strange text messages or even text messages from what look like legitimate companies. Never click on the link of any text from any company you do not have business with. If a text claims your credit card or bank card has been frozen, do not click on any links to clarify; even if the financial institution is one you do business with, you should contact the number on their website directly to find out for sure. Be suspicious of all phone calls from numbers you do not recognize. Always hang up on people claiming to be from the post office, a government agency, the police, a big tech company, or a shopping site like Amazon. It’s also a good idea to report these scams in an effort to protect others.
Unfortunately, scam attempts aren’t going away. But by increasing public awareness, we can fight back and ensure these scammers aren’t able to defraud others. With this information in mind, you can protect yourself and the people you love.