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Simply put fake text messages are those which are sent with malicious intent. The primary purpose of a text message is to scam the recipient. Fake text message scams are nowadays also called smishing or SMS phishing.
“Phishing is an attempt by cybercriminals posing as legitimate institutions, usually via email, to obtain sensitive information from targeted individuals.”
We all like to think that we wouldn’t fall prey to such scams, but the stats would want us to tighten our belts. Why is that? Let’s take a look:
- Less than 35% of the population know what smishing is. To put it simply, this is the number of people who are unaware that a scam through text messages is even possible. This inadvertently could lead them to become victims of a scam.
- A 328% rise in cases of fake text messages has been identified in 2020 alone. The onset of the pandemic proved to be a breeding ground for fake text messages as it saw a ginormous rise in the number of these cases. (Proofpoint)
- It’s causing millions in losses. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center in 2020 itself, $54 Million in losses was reported through phishing scams. (IC3)
Some of the broad themes of fake test messages are as follows:
- Giveaways such as free gift cards or prizes or money
- Businesses could receive messages such as ‘buy Facebook or Google reviews for cheap’
- An offer for a credit card with no or low-interest rate
- A promise to help pay off loans
- A message about your account or payment information (such as a suspicious activity)
- Asking for your online banking or direct deposit information
- A message about a fake transaction
How to identify a fake text message : an example
A recent case of a text message scam was reported by a woman in Texas, Forth Worth. She was duped of thousands of dollars through what appeared to be her credit union. The text message enquired if she made a payment of X amount and then followed to prompt her to reply back. The message looked like this:
“Did you attempt a ZELLE payment for the amount of $2000 on 6/18? If valid reply YES, if fraud reply NO. Reply HELP for help, STOP to end msgs. Msg&Data rates may apply.”
Some other examples of text message fraud that have occurred previously looked like this:
The Bank of America Text Scam
“Dear customer, Bank of America is closing your bank account. Please confirm your PIN at notbankofamerica.com/SPAM to keep your account activated.”
Free Money Text Scam
“You’ve won a prize! Go to tarrget.ly/scamprize to claim your $500 Target gift card.”
How to identify a fake text message? Step-by-step analysis
Let’s take one of the above examples to help us identify a fake text message when we see one.
- Look at the phone number
All legit phone numbers have 10 digits. If the sender’s phone number has 11 digits, that is a major red flag. Another thing to note with respect to the phone number is that businesses use their registered phone numbers to send messages and if you receive a text from an unidentified phone number, it is probably fake.
- It uses incorrect branding
In the quest to look legitimate, these text message scams try to use the name of some established brands to confuse customers. For example, a supposed message from Amazon could be from ‘Amazzon’ instead. Another example is the use of numbers in the URL link. For example www1.amazon.com. This method may be used to retain the original correct spelling of the known brand.
- The grammar is off
Established businesses do not send messages with incorrect grammar. If anything, they are thorough with it and do not leave room for grammatical errors. Fake text messages could also have some glaringly obvious spelling errors and lack coherence in the sentence structure. The syntax of the message could also be off. For example, there might be an unnecessary space between words or symbols.
- Will try to establish a sense of urgency
Coming to the actual content of the message, it would be such that it almost forces you to take immediate action. When there is limited time to do a task, one might hurry to get it completed. This urge to complete the task quickly will often prompt you to not think about the message deeply.
- It’s too good to be true
Free coupons, massive discounts, and services at extremely cheap prices (buying Facebook reviews for cheap) are all red flags used to lure you into completing a particular action. The action could be anything ranging from responding, YES, NO, or STOP to a message or clicking a link present in the text body.
- It offers a fake refund
A refund offer is admittedly quite enticing, but again too good to be true. The way fake refund texts work is that you would receive a message stating that ‘ you have received a refund and once you send in a code you would be able to receive this amount.’. If and when you send the code your information could be extorted.
What to do in case you receive a fake text?
The number one golden rule in preventing fake text message scams is: DO NOT RESPOND TO IT!
Do not respond to the message in any manner or form. What do we mean by that? For example, you got a message like the one mentioned in the image above. Do not reply, STOP, YES, NO. Another way you could respond to a message is by following the link mentioned in the text message. Clicking these links or responding to the text may help the scammers get the information on your phone.
What to do in case you respond to a fake text?
First, report it. Reporting spam texts is an effective way to stop this illegal activity – for yourself and others. Other steps to follow include:
- Block the spammer’s phone number from your phone.
- Inform your carrier of the number you received the spam text from.
- Call your credit card companies, alert them to possible fraudulent transactions, and cancel cards if necessary.
- Change your passwords to sensitive information sources such as banking, healthcare, email addresses, and social media apps.
Bonus: Best practices for business text messaging
If you own a business and use text messaging to communicate with your customers, you would want to ensure that none of the text messages that you send to your customers appears as spam to them. So, what are some of the steps you can take to ensure your authenticity?
1. Create an Opt-in List
TCPA mandates that businesses only send text messages to customers who have explicitly given their permission to receive updates from a business. This step will help ensure that your customers perceive your text messages as important and not perceived as spam.
2. Check your grammar
As discussed above, poor grammar is an indication of a spam message. To avoid your message being perceived as spam, make sure that you use correct grammar in your text messages.
3. Time your messages appropriately
Sending messages at odd times can be considered a bit spammy. It’s important that you time your messages such that it does not seem intrusive to your customers. Acceptable timings include 09 AM to 12 PM or 3 PM to 5 PM. Early morning texts or late night texts should be completely avoided. If you wish to schedule your text messages, software like Emitrr could help out.
You can follow these steps with Emitrr to send a good text message campaign.
a) Go to ‘text campaigns’ > Manual
b) Add the text content
c) Select the contact list
d) Schedule the text message/
4. Include clear CTA’s
A well-defined call to action will promt the receiver to complete the request. For example, if you send an appointment reminder text, a CTA such as confirm your appointment with YES or NO can be used.
5. Include an Opt-out option
Opt-out options will help both you and your customer. If a customer chooses to opt-out it will be most likely because the services you offer are no longer needed by them. It’s better that you reach out to customers who are engaged. It will ultimately result in better campaign performance.
The harsh truth is that all of us will most likely receive a fake text message, that’s sort of out of our control. But what is in the purview of our control is how we choose to respond to it.
Follow the steps mentioned above to look for anything that might appear out of place and you will save yourself from being caught in a text message scam.