Tech Matters: What to do about the flood of scam texts?
Text scams have skyrocketed. Last year saw a 157% increase in robotexts, messages generated through autodialing, compared with 2021. While about two-thirds of the estimated 225 billion texts were marketing messages that recipients allowed, the rest were scams, according to Robokiller’s 2022 phone scam report. And that’s a lot of potentially harmful texts landing on your phone.
In contrast, phone scams have slowed, growing less than 10% last year. Still, losses from these 78 billion or so calls resulted in more than $65 billion, compared with $20 billion from texts. The slowdown can be largely attributed to the Federal Communications Commission and its 2021 regulation that required phone companies to stop many forms of caller ID spoofing, a popular tactic used by scammers to make a call look like it’s coming from someone you know. That regulation along with related new laws nearly wiped out student loan scams and significantly reduced car warranty scams, the FCC said.
But we know that when one door closes, another opens for scammers, and this year’s door is text scams. This shift can also be attributed to the fact that people open 95% of their text messages because texts convey a sense of urgency and usually come from someone we know and trust. And those messages don’t disappear until the user deletes them, unlike an unanswered call.
Robokiller issued this warning: 2023 is set to be another banner year for SMS scammers, as Robokiller predicts Americans will receive 50% more robotexts. So how can you protect yourself against this rising tide of scams?
The first thing to do is unsubscribe from any marketing texts you opted into to get a first-time buyer discount or other perks. You got your discount and now you really don’t need those texts. In most cases, the retailer sends emails along with texts, so check your email if you’re interested in new products and deals from a particular store. The idea here is to restore your text message flow to include only friends and family, which will make a scam text much easier to spot.
While the range of scams covers many topics, here are a few to watch out for:
- Any requests for money, even if the text appears to be from someone you know. Call the person and verify before you even consider sending money. Be especially leery of requests for payment as gift cards, cryptocurrency, PayPal or Venmo — all of which are difficult to trace.
- A text claiming to be from someone at your bank asking you to transfer money. A flurry of this scam made the rounds earlier this year with the texter saying they were from Chase. Again, take no action other than to call your bank.
- A text asking for personal information such as bank account passwords, account numbers, credit card numbers, and Social Security or Medicare numbers. Do not be taken in by urgent messages or threats; these are common ploys.
- A message that asks you to click on a link to complete account information or for any other reason. Clicking on a link could take you to a malicious website that could load malware into your computer. Do not click on links in a text or an email. If it seems to go to a familiar website, go directly to the known website from your browser.
- The text says it’s from a computer service and needs to access your computer remotely. Never give access to this type of texter.
If you receive a suspicious text, you may report it to the FCC and then delete it. It’s best to not open these texts at all. Any action on your part signals your number is a working one! If you’re just not sure if a text is legitimate — say the sender is familiar or you do have an account with the company in question — call directly or check your account status by logging into your account online. Chances are there is nothing amiss with your account.
Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org.