A few weeks ago, I woke up to an early morning text message on my smartphone. He was not my editor or a needy friend in a different time zone. That was a message from me.
“Free message: Your bill has been paid for March. Thank you, here is a small gift for you, ”read the text of my own phone number, pointing me to the web link.
I have found some such texts in the last month. In online forums, many Verizon customers have reported similar experiences.
It was clear to me what was happening. Scammers used Internet tools to manipulate the phone network to send me messages from a number they were not actually texting. It was the same method used by RoboCollar to “spoof” phone calls, as if they were coming from a legitimate neighbor. If I had clicked on the web link, I would probably have been asked for personal information, such as a credit card number, which a scammer could use for fraud.
Consumers have struggled with cellphone spam for years, primarily in the form of RoboCalls, scammers constantly ringing for late payments for student loans, audits by the Internal Revenue Service and leaving fraudulent messages about expired car warranties.
More recently mobile phone fraud has turned more towards texting, experts said. Spam texts from all types of phone numbers – and not just your own – are on the rise. In March, 11.6 billion scam messages were sent to American wireless networks, up 30 percent from February. It surpasses RoboCalls, which grew 20 percent over the same period, according to an analysis by Teltech, which makes anti-spam tools for phones.
Verizon confirmed that it was investigating the text problem. On Monday, he said he had fixed the problem. “We have blocked the source of a recent text messaging scheme in which bad performers were sending fraudulent text messages to Verizon customers that appeared to be coming from the recipient’s own number,” said Adria Tomazewski, a Verizon spokeswoman.
Representatives from AT&T and T-Mobile said they did not see the same problem. But text spam affects all wireless subscribers, and carriers now offer online resources on how people can protect themselves and report spam.
Text scams vary widely but often involve tracking updates for fake package delivery or leaking your personal data through hidden messages as information about health products and online banking. Their rise is partly fueled by the fact that it is very easy to send messages, Teltek said. In addition, industry-wide and government efforts to crack down on RoboCalls could force scammers to move towards text messages.
“Scammers are always on the lookout for the next big thing,” said Julia Porter, Teltech’s vice president. “Spam texts are growing faster than spam calls.”
Here’s what to look for and tactics to help ease the way.
What spam text looks like
According to Teltech, by far the most common text scam is pretending to be a company that is offering package shipping updates, such as UPS, FedEx or Amazon.
Last week, I received a message stating that the Samsung TV – a big-ticket item that caught my attention – could not be delivered. Announced another anti-aging skin cream. Another message talked about the benefits of a product that cures brain fog.
Beware of these so-called hints of deceptive text:
Scam text usually comes from phone numbers that are 10 digits or more. Authorized commercial organizations usually send messages with four-, five- or six-digit numbers.
The message contains misspelled words intended to block the spam filters of wireless carriers.
Links to scam text often seem strange. Instead of the traditional web link created by “www.websitename.com”, it is web links that contain sentences or phrases, such as droppoundsketo.com. This practice, called URL masking, involves the use of fake web links that point you to a different web address asking for your personal information.
How to protect yourself
First and foremost, never click on a link or file of a suspicious message.
Definitely don’t reply to such a message. Typing “STOP” will also notify the scammer that your phone number is active.
To report scam text, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile offer to forward the message to the same number: 7726. After forwarding, the carrier asks for the phone number from which the message came.
If text spam is becoming overwhelming, spam-filtering applications like Teletalk’s Textkiller are here to help. The application, which blocks spam texts for 4 per month, scans messages from phone numbers that are not in your address book. If the text is identified as spam, it is filtered into a folder labeled “junk”.
TextKiller was perfect – maybe very perfect. He successfully intercepted five spam messages in five days, but he also mistakenly filtered two legitimate messages, including a thank you note from Verizon for reporting spam and an AT&T message. So I wouldn’t recommend paying $ 4 per month for this app, which is only available for iPhones, unless the spam texts have become really unbearable for you.
Teltek said false positives for messages marked as spam occur in rare cases, and customers can share feedback to train TextKiller’s accuracy.
Using free tools to reduce distractions from spam texts is a more practical solution. On iPhones, you can open the Settings app, tap Messages and enable the “Filter Unknown Senders” option. It puts messages from numbers not in your phone book in 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 message settings and block certain numbers from contacting you.
There is a moral in this story: if we stop sharing our phone numbers with people we don’t fully trust, we can help prevent spam from filling up our phones. This includes a cashier at a retail store asking for our phone number to get a discount, or an app or website asking for our numbers when we sign up for an account. Who knows where our numbers end up in the hands of marketers?
It’s a good idea to have another set of digits for all of us, created with free internet calling apps like Google Voice, which we consider as burner phone numbers.
That way, the next time a scammer tries to send you text from you, it won’t come from your own number.