By now, most seniors are familiar with email, phone, and mail scams and are becoming savvier at avoiding these traps. However, scammers have found a new way to weasel their way into our wallets, and that’s through text message scams. And the numbers of these scams are going through the roof; in 2020, more than 300,000 text message scams were reported to the FTC.
It is important to note that the terms SMS and text messaging are interchangeable, so if you hear anything about SMS scams it’s the same as a text messaging scam. SMS stands for Short Message Service.
Text message scams are one of the newer scams out there, which is why so many fraudsters are using them since many of us have never even heard of them, making seniors less wary about responding to the messages they receive.
One of the key reasons many seniors are fooled into text message scams is because we think our cell phone numbers are private. Unfortunately, hackers have found selling cell phone numbers to scammers to be a lucrative hobby. Plus, we share our cell numbers on forms all the time, and some companies will sell their phone lists, unknowingly, to scammers.
Another reason text scams work so well is that they are the newest and easiest way to do business. Many seniors receive notifications via text from our banks and credit card companies, and why not? Cellphones are a fast way to communicate. Communications confirming charges and activity are the most common texts we receive from these establishments, which is what made it so easy for criminals to jump right in with their scams.
But like with all scams knowing how to identify and avoid these scams is key to ensuring we don’t get caught up in them.
If you fall victim to a text messaging scam, it is imperative you report it right away. If you think that your bank or credit card information has been compromised, it is best to contact these financial institutions right away to report the potential fraud. The faster you can report these scams, the less damage these scammers can do.
And after you contact the credit card company or bank, you should reach out to the FTC and report it through their online form. It is essential to report these scams to the FTC so they can collect evidence and build a case against these criminals.
Types of Texting Scams
- Your Account is Being Closed
- We Have a Delivery for You
- You’re a Winner!
- Suspicious Activity
Your Account is Being Closed
The Scenario: You receive an urgent message that your account is being closed unless you respond within the next 24 hours. Provided within the text message is a link you can conveniently click on to prevent the closing of your account.
The Scam: After you click on the link, you are sent to a site that appears to be the company’s legitimate site that contacted you; from there, the website will instruct you to verify your personal information to avoid the closure of your account.
Unfortunately, the reality is that you are on the scammer’s website, and you unintentionally provided your personal information to the scammers, which they can use to access your accounts or set up new ones in your name.
How to Avoid It: Just like phishing emails, you never want to click directly on a link unless you are 110% sure it’s a text message from exactly who they are claiming to be. If you are unsure if the message is real or not, it is best to look up the company’s phone number and call them directly to ask about the status of your account.
Do not use the information provided in the text to contact the company since it will lead you back to the scammer.
We Have a Delivery for You
The Scenario: Home deliveries have become so common that no one bats an eye when they receive text message status updates on their parcels. The scam starts with a friendly message stating that a parcel is being held for you, but you must verify your information for you to receive it.
The Scam: You click on the link provided and verify your information. At this point they one of two things will happen, or maybe even both. You will unknowingly provide personal information to the scammer, or by clicking on the link, the scammer will have access to download malware onto your smartphone.
Malware on phones works the same as with computers. It is a program that acts as a spy collecting sensitive information like passwords and account information.
How to Avoid It: Don’t click on the link. If you feel that you could have a pending package, reach out and contact the carrier to find out if they have your parcel.
You’re a Winner!
The Scenario: Just like the email and phone scams, fraudsters know that everyone loves being a winner of a big prize. Often these text messages appear to come from well-known companies that you likely do business with, such as Amazon or Walmart.
The text will claim that you have won a gift card from the company they’re claiming to be and all you need to do is click on the link provided.
The Scam: After following the instructions provided on the text message, you are led to a website that looks almost identical to the one you are used to seeing, but if you check out the web address, you might notice small discrepancies such as the letter o being replaced with a zero.
The scammers are looking to get you to share your personal information like your username and password for this company so they can access your account to buy things.
How to Avoid It: Don’t click on the link; sorry to sound like a broken record but don’t do it. Everyone who receives a message they just won a gift card gets excited, but it is best to put the brakes on and take time to do your research. If the text is real, your gift card isn’t going anywhere, and if it’s a scam, you just avoided falling victim.
The Scenario: You receive a message appearing from your bank or credit card stating that suspicious activity has been identified on your account. Often these messages will include a specific dollar amount, like “We noticed a charge for $170.46 on your account.” The message will then instruct you to call them immediately if you do not recognize this transaction.
The Scam: You, of course, don’t recognize the charge and call the number immediately. When the call goes through, you are directed by an automated system to verify your personal information, such as account number, Social Security number, and PIN. After providing this information, the call disconnects instead of transferring you to a live person.
How to Avoid It: Look up the number for the financial institution and call them directly, do not use the phone number provided. If it is a valid text from the company, they won’t care if you call the number provided or the main customer service number; they will work with you to solve the problem.