Tips for Avoiding Text Scams

After years of having a cellphone, you’re probably used to scam or robot calls and junk email hitting your inbox. But now cybercriminals are taking it one step further, flooding your device with scam text messages.

Receiving an unexpected text from an unknown number can happen occasionally as people mistype a digit or use an old number. These messages, though, aren’t coming from a phone. Instead, a computer sends out thousands of texts every second to devices all around the country in the hope that someone will reply. And when they do, that opens the door to hackers and identity thieves.

So how can you protect yourself against this new form of cyber crime? We’re here to walk you through everything you need to know about text scams, what you can do to protect yourself, and how to report a possible scam text.


Woman holding cell phone


Can A Scammer Get Anything From A Text?

The short answer? Yes. When you receive a scam text message, any action that you take beyond deleting the message could open you up to sharing sensitive personal and financial data with criminals.

You’re likely familiar with the concept of “phishing”, where criminals steal your personal information via your computer or email. Scam texts have come to be known as “smishing”, as hackers operate in a similar way as email phishers, just on a different device and through SMS rather than email or phone calls.

While they may be targeting you in a different way, these cyber criminals are looking for the same information that they would be if they were trying to contact you online. They’re after details like your:

  • Social security number
  • Personal information – date of birth, address, email etc.
  • Bank account details
  • PINs for banking and online accounts

They may also be attempting to install malware on your device in order to gain access to those  details on a frequent and recurring basis. Once this is installed on your smartphone or computer, cybercriminals are able to login to your mobile banking systems via any apps you have installed, or even make unauthorized purchases using cards in your mobile wallet.


Image of cell phone receiving call from unknown number


How To Identify A Scam Text

Clicking on links in text scams are just as harmful as links you may open from an unknown or unexpected email, so it’s crucial to know how to identify these messages.

The most commonly used technique in smishing is an “urgent” message suggesting that there’s been a problem. Data breaches, an unauthorized charge on your credit card, or insufficient funds for a transaction are all used to make you feel panicked and want to click on the attached link.

This is most frequently seen in bank text scams, where hackers are trying to access your financial information. You might see a message reading “your account needs urgent attention/updates” or make references to a bank or credit card provider who you actually have an account with.

With this type of cybercrime, messages are often sent from a number with the same area code as your own, to make the text appear more credible. You may also see messages coming in that look as though they’re from a legitimate authority, like a government agency. This has been a particular problem throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with scam texts being sent about contact tracing for possible virus spreading.

It’s important to know that government agencies almost never send out text messages, particularly containing links. Unless you have a two-factor authentication with a text code set up for a government website, it’s best to assume that any text you receive from someone claiming to be a legitimate government source is actually a scam.


Image of hand holding cell phone


What To Do If You Think You’ve Received A Scam Text

Many people wonder “can you get scammed by replying to a text?” Unfortunately, you can. Even if you don’t click on anything in the text itself, simply replying with STOP or any other message is enough to tell the scammer that your phone number is valid and active.

You should never click on any links within a suspicious or spammy text message. This is the number one method that hackers use to install malware on your phone or device. You should never enter any personal information about yourself or your finances if you click on a link and it takes you to a website asking for these details.

Spammers will often try to create urgency or panic in their messages to tempt you into handing over sensitive information. If you receive a message like this, don’t worry or reply to the message.

Banks and financial institutions will also rarely contact you via text message. If there’s been a problem with your account, you may receive a phone call. Since scammers can also try to access your information this way too, if you do receive a call or text, you should never answer directly.

Instead, it’s best to contact the organization or institution that the text claims to be from directly, using the contact information listed on their website. If the message is about a bank or credit card, use the number provided on the back of your card.

If you can, stop by a local branch of your bank and speak to someone in person, or call their fraud department if you’re concerned that your account has been accessed. You can also login to your online banking and bill pay system to check if there has actually been an issue, or if the message was fake.

You can add your phone number to the national Do Not Call registry as an additional security step. While this won’t help to address any existing text scams that you may have received, it can prevent you from receiving telemarketing or robot calls and texts in the future.

If any telemarketing company contacts you after your number has been listed on the registry for 31 days, you can report them to the FTC. Any companies found guilty can face up to $43,000 in fines per unauthorized call.


Man holding cell phone with a concerned look.


How To Report Text Scams

If you think you’ve received a scam text, you should report it as soon as possible to your mobile carrier. Forwarding the message to 7726 (SPAM) will trigger a message from the network, asking you for the number that the spam text was sent from. They’ll conduct their own investigation and take steps to stop this number from spamming their other customers.

You may also be able to set up a blocking app with your wireless provider. In many cases, these will block both suspicious calls and texts before they reach your device. There are several third-party apps that you can use too if your network doesn’t have their own.

Keep Your Personal Information Safe

No one expects to become the victim of a scam, but it’s very easy for hackers and cybercriminals to convince you that their messages are real.

If you’re worried that someone may have access to your checking or savings account after receiving a text, contact the team at Flanagan State Bank. We’ll help you take steps to protect your money and prevent any further problems. Call us at 1-815-796-2264 or visit a branch today.