A few weeks ago, I woke up to an early morning text message on my smartphone. It wasn’t my editor or a needy friend from a different time zone. It was a message from me.
“Free Message: Your bill has been paid for the month of March ৷ Thank you, here is a small gift for you” Read the text from my own phone number, pointing me to a web link.
Last month I received a handful of such texts. In online forums, many Verizon subscribers report similar experiences.
It was clear to me what was happening. Scammers used Internet tools to manipulate phone networks to text me from a number they weren’t actually texting. This was the same method that RoboCallers used to “spoof” phone calls as if they were coming from someone as legitimate as a neighbor. If I were to click on a web link, I would probably be asked for personal information, such as a credit card number, which a fraudster could use for fraud.
Consumers have been battling cellphone spam for years, initially in the form of RoboCall, with scammers constantly ringing to deliver fraudulent messages about late payments for student loans, internal revenue service audits, and expired car warranties.
Only recently have mobile phones moved more and more towards texting, experts say. Spam text from all kinds of phone numbers – and not just your own – is on the rise In March, 11.6 billion scam messages were sent to American wireless networks, up 30 percent from February. That surpassed the RoboCalls, which grew 20 percent over the same period, according to an analysis by Teltech, which makes anti-spam tools for phones.
Verizon has confirmed that it is investigating the text issue. On Monday, it said it had solved the problem. “We blocked the source of a recent text messaging scheme where bad actors were sending deceptive text messages to Verizon customers that appeared to be from the recipient’s own number,” said Verizon spokeswoman Adria Thomaszewski.
Representatives of 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 coughing up your personal data through messages disguised as information about health products and online banking. Their emergence is partly due to the fact that sending messages is not so easy, Teltech said. Also, industry and government efforts to crack down on RoboCall could put pressure on scammers to get into text messages.
“Scammers are always looking for the next big thing,” said Giulia Porter, vice president of Teltech. “Spam text is growing at a much faster rate than spam calls.”
Here’s what to look for and tactics to help ease the way
What the spam text looks like
By far the most common text scam is a disguised message from a company offering shipping updates in a package, such as UPS, FedEx or Amazon, according to Teltech.
Last week, I received a message stating that a Samsung TV – a big-ticket item that caught my attention – could not be delivered. Another advertised an anti-aging skin cream. Another message mentioned the benefits of a product that cures brain fog.
Look for these telltale signs of a deceptive text:
Scam text usually comes from 10 phone numbers or more. Authentic commercial organizations usually send messages from four-, five- or six-digit numbers.
The message contained misspelled words intended to evade the wireless carrier’s spam filters.
Links to a scam text often look weird. Instead of a traditional web link created by “www.websitename.com”, they are web links that contain sentences or phrases, such as droppoundsketo.com. This practice, known as URL masking, uses a fake web link that points you to a different web address that asks for your personal information.
How to protect yourself
First and foremost, never click on a suspicious message link or file.
Of course do not reply to such messages. Even typing “STOP” will indicate to a scammer that your phone number is active.
To report a fraudulent text, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile offer to forward messages to the same number: 7726. After forwarding, the carrier asks the phone number that the message has been received
When text spam becomes irresistible, spam-filtering apps like Teltech’s Textkiller to help. The app, which blocks spam text for 4 a month, scans messages from phone numbers that aren’t in your address book. If text is detected as spam, it is filtered into a folder labeled “junk”.
The textkiller was thorough – probably very thorough. It successfully caught five spam messages in five days, but it also mistakenly filtered two valid messages, including a response thanking me for reporting spam from Verizon and a message from an AT&T spokesperson. So I wouldn’t recommend paying $ 4 per month for this app, which is only available for iPhones, unless the spam texts become really unbearable for you.
A more practical solution is to use free tools to reduce spam text. On iPhones, you can open the Settings app, tap on Messages and enable an option to “Filter unknown senders”. It keeps messages from numbers that are not in your phone book in a separate message folder. On Android phones, you can open the messaging app, enter spam message settings and enable “Block unknown senders”.
Finally, both the iPhone and Android devices include the ability to open a message settings and block a certain number from contacting you.
The last row
There is a moral to this story: if we stop sharing our phone numbers with people we don’t fully trust, we can help prevent spam from flooding our phones. This includes a retail store cashier asking for our phone number to get a discount, or an app or a website asking for our money when we sign up for an account. Who knows where our numbers end up after reaching the hands of marketers?
A good idea for all of us is to carry a second set of numbers, which can be created with a free internet calling app like Google Voice, which we consider as a burner phone number.
That way, the next time a scammer tries to send you a text from himself, it won’t come from your own number.