What is smishing? How to protect yourself

January 02, 2024

  • # Biometric Security
  • # Phishing Protection
  • # Account Protection

An unknown number texts you to say it’s flagged your credit card for fraud. But when you open the link from the text, the website doesn’t look like your credit card provider’s at all. 

Do you input your login information? You want to fix the problem fast, but this text is a little fishy — or, in cybersecurity terms, phishy. 

Text scams like these are actually known as smishing, a word that combines SMS and phishing. This digital deception artfully masquerades as legitimate text messages, tricking you into revealing personal information or clicking on harmful links.

Awareness and vigilance can turn the tables on these cyber tricksters. Here’s a guide to what smishing is and how to spot it in our increasingly connected world.

What is smishing, and how does it work?

Smishing is a type of phishing attack where cybercriminals use text messaging to make you vulnerable to malware, hack your social media, or steal important data. Scammers craft these smishing texts to appear legitimate, often posing as messages from banks or government agencies — or even someone you know. 

The objective is to trick you into divulging sensitive information like your credit card information, social security number, or login credentials. Smishing attacks often manipulate your trust and tendency to respond quickly to text messages, hoping you act fast enough to not think critically about what’s happening and whether you should respond.

Smishing versus phishing versus vishing

While smishing targets individuals through text messages, its counterparts, phishing and vishing, use different methods. Phishing exploits email, and vishing uses voice calls (robocalls). All three of these methods aim to achieve the same things, just through different media.

Types of smishing attacks

Smishing attacks display a diverse range of tactics and strategies, so if you’ve seen one, the next likely won’t look the same. When you get a text from an unknown number, no matter what it says, practice vigilance and make sure it’s real before taking action. Common types include:

  1. Impersonation scams: Impersonation scams are when cybercriminals masquerade as reputable entities. They might spoof a bank's phone number or pose as a government agency, crafting messages that mimic official communications. The goal is to win your trust and then exploit it, duping you into revealing sensitive details like your login credentials or credit card information.

  2. Tech support scams: These scams prey on the fear and lack of information surrounding technical issues. You might receive a message claiming there's a problem with your computer or online account — and the catch is that the problem doesn't exist. It's a ruse to get you to share personal information or download malware.

  3. Account suspension scams: These scams aim to capitalize on a fake crisis, like messages asserting that an account will be suspended or closed unless you take immediate action. The urgency is a ploy to panic you into responding without thinking, often leading to the surrender of confidential data.

  4. Missed delivery scams: Capitalizing on the rise of online shopping, these scams inform you of a “missed package delivery.” They usually ask you to click on a link to reschedule delivery, leading you to fraudulent websites designed to steal personal information.

  5. Prize or lottery scams: Always be suspicious of foul play whenever you're told that you've won a prize or lottery — especially when you know you haven’t entered one. In these scams, you often need to provide personal details or pay a fee to claim your prize, leading to financial loss or identity theft.

  6. Charity scams: Using your empathy against you, these scams seek donations for fake charities. Charity scams are especially prevalent during times of crisis, as they exploit your goodwill for nefarious gains.

How to detect smishing scams

Detecting smishing requires a discerning eye and a skeptical mind. Look out for these red flags in any suspicious messages:

  • Urgency: Smishing messages often create a false sense of urgency, pressuring you to act quickly before you realize what’s going on. This tactic aims to bypass your rational thinking and provoke an impulsive response.

  • Unsolicited requests: Genuine organizations (like your bank) rarely ask for sensitive information via text message. Be wary of unsolicited requests for personal or financial details.

  • Suspicious links: Be cautious of messages with links, especially shortened URLs like bit.ly or tinyurl. They're often gateways to malicious websites. Instead of clicking, hover over the link (if possible) to see the actual URL. Chances are, it won’t be a legitimate website.

  • Grammar and spelling errors: Real messages from companies are usually well-written. Poor grammar and spelling can be telltale signs of a scam.

  • Sender's authenticity: Examine the sender's contact information. Cross-reference it with official channels you know are legitimate. If there's a discrepancy, it's likely a scam.

How to protect yourself from smishing attacks: 7 tips

Text messaging has become an essential part of our daily lives, and with so many texts per day, you don't always have time to pay attention to potential scams. Awareness and proactive measures are your best defense. Here are seven tips to help you avoid smishing:

1. Educate yourself

Dive into the world of smishing to understand its nature. Keep abreast of new tactics and strategies that cybercriminals are using, paying attention to the news and any alerts from your bank or other organizations. Remember, knowledge is power, and in this case, it's your first line of defense.

2. Verify the sender's identity

Before responding to any text message, pause and verify. Cross-check the sender's details with official sources. You might find that the area code or phone number is completely different from what you’re used to, which indicates smishing. 

If a message says it’s from a bank or a service provider, contact them through known, official channels to confirm its legitimacy. When your credit card really is at risk, your bank will be happy to help you.

3. Use security software

Equip your mobile devices with extra security solutions just in case you do click on a link and download a virus. Antivirus and antimalware applications can provide an additional layer of protection, scanning for and alerting you to potential threats.

4. Implement two-factor authentication

Elevate your security by implementing two-factor authentication (2FA) on all your accounts — for example, logging in both with your username and password and a text verification every time. If a smisher gained access to your login information, they still wouldn’t be able to verify the text and access your account. This simple step can significantly decrease the likelihood of unauthorized access.

5. Avoid sharing sensitive information

Never share personal details via text message. In a legitimate situation, it’s almost never necessary. Cybercriminals know how to create scenarios that seem urgent, but remember, genuine organizations won’t solicit sensitive information in this manner. 

6. Report suspicious texts

If you receive a text that raises red flags, don’t ignore it. Report smishing, even if you don’t reply or click on the link. Block the number and inform your service provider about the potential smishing attempt. Your action can help thwart cybercriminals’ efforts.

7. Use IronVest's tools

IronVest's suite of tools, including AccessGuard™, provide an added security blanket to all of your accounts. With features like biometric login, masked phone numbers and emails, and unhackable single-use virtual cards, you can rest assured that you — and only you — can access your information.

What to do if you receive a smishing text

If you suspect you've received a suspicious text, follow these steps to protect yourself:

  • Don’t respond: Engaging with the scammer can escalate the situation. Avoid any form of communication with the sender.

  • Report the message: Take a proactive stance and report the message to your mobile carrier or the appropriate authorities. Your action can contribute to a larger effort in combating cybercrime.

  • Verify independently: If the message seems to be from a known entity, verify its authenticity independently. Use official phone numbers or websites, not the contact information provided in the suspicious text.

  • Change compromised credentials: If you’ve inadvertently shared sensitive information, act swiftly. Change your passwords and PINs immediately, and let the organization behind the account know what happened. This could prevent any further damage or unauthorized access to your accounts.

Shield yourself from smishing with IronVest

IronVest stands at the forefront of combatting digital scams, equipping you with cutting-edge tools for a secure online presence. 

IronVest’s innovative features, like masked phone numbers, are specifically designed to shield your personal information from smishers and phishers. The system also alerts you to potential threats and arms you with additional solutions that keep your data and accounts under lock and key — from biometric logins to secure virtual credit cards.

Get IronVest today and enjoy a safer digital experience tomorrow.

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