Text message scams affect Americans on a daily basis. Over $137 million was reported lost in the U.S. in 2021 from frauds originating in scam texts, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a consumer protection agency.
In the past, it was easier to spot a fake text message. But as technology and scammers become more innovative, it’s increasingly difficult to identify a fake text message. Our guide will teach you how to recognize SMS fraud and provide ways to protect yourself from scammers.
Why do text messaging scams happen?
Text message or SMS phishing, also called smishing, occurs when a scam artist tries to deceive a person into providing their personal information or money via text messaging.
Con artists understand that it’s harder to detect a fraud message on a communication channel like text since it is more challenging to obtain someone’s phone number. Plus, texting is a personal channel, so people are more likely to interact with an unknown number out of curiosity.
While there’s no exact reason scammers target vulnerable audiences, they’re likely looking for financial gain.
5 ways to identify a fake text message
1. Pay attention to links
The first telltale sign of a fake text message is suspicious linkx. Therefore, it’s best not to click on a link until you can verify its security.
Unlike email, text messages don’t allow users to hover over a link to see where the destination is, so text message users have to get more creative. For starters, if a con artist claims to be a big brand or company you recognize, open the internet and search for that company's official website. If the link URL looks different, then it’s likely fake.
Credible websites include those that end in .org or .gov since those domains are harder for the average person to acquire.
You can also contact the company directly and ask if the message is associated with them. For example, many scammers pretend to be a bank to extract money from someone. You can check that bank’s website or call the bank directly for confirmation that it sent the message.
Check out the example of a fake text below pretending to be Chase Bank. You can tell it is fraudulent because the link is from a fake site that combines a demo page, WordPress, and batworld into one URL. The number also doesn’t match any of those associated with Chase Bank.
2. Use your best judgment
Never underestimate your gut feeling. If the nature of a message sounds off to you, listen to your instinct. Also, if something sounds too good to be true, it is.
Let’s say someone is offering you a large dollar amount for completing a survey. While it’s true that many companies incentivize survey participants, they won’t reach out to folks without a previous interaction. Plus, you likely won’t be awarded $1,000 to take a survey.
3. Look for spelling or grammatical errors
While scammers are getting better at this, many still make grammatical errors. Keep a look out for misspellings, lack of punctuation, unusual spacing, and incorrectly phrased sentences. Spelling or grammatical errors from an unknown number usually indicate the message is spam.
4. Don’t fall for time-sensitive warnings
Phishers will try to pressure users to respond by claiming that the user needs to take immediate action before a consequence occurs. For example, a scammer may claim to be a financial institute and tell a user that they need to take immediate action before their account is shut down.
No bank will fulfill this request without speaking to the user first. Plus, no company will ever rush a user into taking action without giving them ample time to think about it.
In the two fake text examples below, you see scammers pretending to be companies and requesting them to visit a link to unlock an account. You can tell these are scams because of the questionable links, immediacy, and grammatical errors.
5. Ensure relevancy
Often the most information scammers have is a mobile phone user’s number or name. They likely don’t have enough time or information to curate a more specific text message. Instead, they may send you a message with zero relevance to your life or work.
For example, if someone asks to purchase a car or truck from you, but you’re not selling or don’t own one, it’s safe to assume the message is fraudulent.
See the example below for a more personalized yet irrelevant text message asking to purchase a vehicle. Remember, some scammers are trying to collect your personal information instead of money.
You can tell this text is fake because of its irrelevancy, grammatical errors, and lack of personal information.
3 ways to handle a fake text message
Now that you know how to detect a fake text message, here’s what you can do to protect yourself.
1. Don’t respond to the message or click any links
First, if you recognize a scam text message, don't engage with it. That means not responding and not clicking on any links. It’s understandable to be upset and want to fire off a series of messages to confront the scammer, but interacting allows them to push your buttons.
Scammers believe in the numbers game; the more people they text, the better their chance of success. By ignoring their message, scammers will give up and move on to the next person to test their luck.
2. Block the number
A con artist will try to interact with the same number multiple times. To avoid receiving more messages, block the scammer’s number as soon as possible.
To block a number on an Android device, go to Settings → Messages → Blocked → Add New and add the number you want to block.
To block the number that sent you a text on an iPhone, do the following:
- Choose the message from the contact you want to block
- Select the name or profile photo at the top of the message
- Click info
- Select “block this caller”
3. Report the number
You can stop after blocking the number or take it a step further and report the number to the proper authorities. There are a few places where you can report an unwanted message.
- Report it on the messaging app you use. Learn more about reporting a number on iMessage on the Apple website or an Android at Google.
- Copy the message and forward it to 7726 (SPAM).
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
The bottom line
Unfortunately, most people become victims of a scam due to trusting the con artist, so having a healthy amount of caution is acceptable when dealing with an unknown number. Keep these tips in mind the next time you receive a message from a stranger. Plus, keep up to date on the latest news to ensure you know the latest scams.