How to identify a fake text message and keep data safe

Yaron Dror

January 12, 2024

  • # Fraud Prevention
  • # Phishing Protection
  • # Account Protection

Cyber criminals have tricked millions of people worldwide into handing over money and revealing sensitive information through text messaging scams. These text scammers pretend to be legitimate entities, like a shipping carrier or a person’s bank, to gain their target’s trust and more easily swindle them. 

If you’re worried about falling into one of these text traps, know that there are measures you can take to protect yourself. Here’s how to identify a fake text message and avoid sharing private information with a criminal who intends to abuse it.

What is a fake text message?

A fake text message is a mobile message that a cyber criminal sends as part of a scam to trick you into sharing sensitive information. The message may provide a link that, when clicked, installs malware on your device or takes you to a webpage that asks for personal information.

Cyber criminals may contact you via SMS (text-only messages) or MMS (multimedia messages), or through an encrypted messaging app, like Signal or Whatsapp. These fake messages often look legitimate and contain convincing or reasonable information. For example, a cyber criminal might claim they’re from a subscription service you use and ask you to provide your login or payment information to keep your account active.

Cyber security experts refer to these attacks as “phishing” (an attempt to steal data by manipulating someone via messaging with lies) — or “smishing” when it’s specifically in the form of an SMS exchange. 

5 ways to identify a fake text message

One of the best ways to avoid a smishing scam is to learn how to spot a fake text. If you never engage with the sender or click on any link or file they send, your personal information is far less likely to fall into the wrong hands. Here are four things to look out for in phony texts:

  1. The message looks “off:” If you receive a message that has spelling errors, comes from an unusually long number, or originates from a foreign country, it could be a scam attempt.

  2. There’s a sense of urgency: Defrauders need you to fall into their trap before you realize you’re dealing with a scam, so they’ll create a sense of urgency. For example, they may insist you need to take immediate action or you’ll face consequences, like a service cancellation or late fees. 

  3. The message seems random: You’ll receive a scam text without forewarning. For example, you might get a message from “your bank” out of nowhere asking you to update personal information (like your social security number) through a link, even though you’ve made no unusual transactions or recent changes to your account.

  4. The content aims to get your information: Reputable companies and financial institutions don’t ask for personal information via text or links sent out in SMS messages. So, if the sender asks for personal information or wants you to visit a site or form to provide your data, don’t click or share anything.

  5. Something’s odd about the sender: A cyber criminal may pose as a person you know, like a friend or relative. If you receive a message that doesn’t quite match the usual tone of voice of the supposed sender, be on guard.

5 common scam text messages

Familiarizing yourself with the most popular types of SMS scams can help you better identify a fake text message when it comes your way. Here are some examples of spam messages to watch for:

1. Fake delivery notifications

If you receive a random text from a carrier like FedEx, UPS, or Amazon alerting you that a shipment is close, it could be part of a scam — especially if you’re not expecting a package or signed up for alerts.

Beware of telltale fraud signs, like a link to update your delivery preferences. Clicking on it could install malware on your phone or lead you to a site that’ll steal your personal information.

2. Refund scam texts

Receiving a text claiming that you overpaid a bill is a common texting scheme. These messages typically urge you to act fast to claim the money supposedly owed to you and will direct you to a link that, if you click on it, will ask you for personal information.

Ask yourself if the refund makes sense and assess the text with a close eye. Before taking any action, contact the supposed sender (like your bank) via their legitimate customer service number and ask if the refund is real. 

3. Suspicious login attempts

In this scam, a defrauder sends you a message saying there’s been a suspicious login attempt on one of your accounts and shares a link to “update your password.” Your instinct may be to take immediate action to secure your account, but that’s precisely what a fraudster wants. The problem is that clicking on the link will take you to a site that steals your data. 

4. Wrong number text scam

A message from a wrong number could simply be from a stranger who mixed up a digit when sending a message, but you should still avoid engaging with these types of texts. You could be dealing with a scammer who purposefully targets random people in hopes of striking up a conversation with them and eventually taking their money.

If you chat with someone who says they had the wrong number and they eventually try to offer you a service, like helping you make a crypto investment because they’re an “expert,” be cautious. This is often an attempt to get you to send money to them with no real financial opportunity.  

5. Romance scam text

In a romance text scam, someone you meet on a dating platform or social media tries to get you to take the conversation to an SMS platform. While this might seem like a step in your relationship, it could be part of a fraud. SMS is less regulated than most dating apps, meaning the person will have an easier time sending you phishing links, malware downloads, or blackmail messages.

What happens if you click on a fake text message?

If you open a fake message or end up replying to the sender accidentally, as long as you don’t provide any personal data or open any links or attachments, you may be in luck. Scammers generally need you to take action, even if it’s just going to a website or downloading malware on your phone, to grab your data. 

Taking preventative measures to protect your data can make a big difference if you do accidentally share information with a scammer or open a fraudulent link. For example, when you use IronVest’s biometric authentication feature on your accounts, it requires you to scan your face to log in. This means no one without your face can access your personal or banking information, even if they obtain your login credentials. 

What should you do if you receive a fake text message?

If you accidentally clicked on a link or shared any sensitive information with someone who’s sent you a fake text, here’s what to do:

  1. Change your passwords for any online accounts you have. 

  2. Keep watch for strange activity on your accounts, phone bills, or on your credit and debit cards. 

  3. Get in touch with your bank about potentially compromised information.

  4. Use anti-virus software to scan your phone for malware.

Regardless of whether or not you interacted with a fake text, you should always report spam messages to the internet crimes unit at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and block and report the sender’s number to your mobile carrier. Taking these steps helps limit cyber crime and can prevent the spammer that messaged you from targeting others.

How to protect yourself from fake SMS scams

Go the extra mile to protect yourself from potential identity or financial theft. The following best practices can ensure you never fall victim to a scam text message. 

  • Never click on links or download files from text messages. 

  • Be wary of too-good-to-be-true messages, like a refund you didn’t expect.

  • Use one of IronVest’s masked phone numbers whenever you need to provide a phone number for any online transactions.

  • Don’t talk with strangers via text — especially beyond letting them know they contacted the wrong number.

  • Be cautious if you get a text from a friend or family member “with a new number.” 

Stay anonymous while you chat with IronVest

Even if you know how to report and block fake text messages and are familiar with common text scams, you could still fall victim to a cyber crime. Criminals' tactics constantly change, and the stories they weave in a scam message can be very convincing. 

With IronVest, you can better protect yourself by using a masked mobile phone number, so you’ll never have to give out your actual digits. To take your digital privacy a step further, set up IronVest’s biometric authentication feature and prevent cyber criminals from gaining access to your online accounts. This will make it much more difficult for smishers and hackers to steal your data or compromise your security.

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