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Tips from tech experts on how to protect yourself amid spike in 'smishing' scams

Tips from tech expert on how to protect yourself amid spike in 'smishing' scams
Posted at 4:27 PM, Apr 07, 2022

CLEVELAND — Spam texts are the new spam calls.

According to RoboKiller, an app that works to block spam calls and texts, Americans received 87.8 billion spam texts in 2021. That's the largest number ever recorded.

Thieves often disguise themselves as your cell phone provider, other reputable companies, or even as the victim themselves to get their personal information and hard-earned cash via a web link.

It's called ‘smishing’--an amalgamation of SMS and phishing.

“It's usually just like, it’ll be asking me to buy crypto or something like that and then it’ll say I need to send someone $500 or something like that, and if you do click on the link it’ll pop up a virus,” said Zachary Zgrabik, a college student who receives smishing text messages.

“I have Verizon and I get those a lot. And they’re like you have a free monthly gift for paying your bill, but my bill’s not even due yet, so why am I getting this?” said Kerri Garrett, another college student who receives smishing text messages.

Alex Hamerstone, the Advisory Solutions Director at TrustedSec, said the first type of smishing is when thieves do research and target a specific person. The second is a “spray and pray” approach where thieves send messages to tens of thousands of numbers using automated systems.

Usually, some of those people take the bait because thieves claim the message is from a cell phone provider, or another trusted company, or they spoof the number to make it look like it's coming from the potential victim’s own phone.

“Oftentimes, it'll take you to a website that's fake. It'll look very real. It'll look like the website of whoever they're purporting to be and it will try to get you to enter your information. So your username, your password. Other financial information, and then they'll take that and use it in various ways,” said Hamerstone.

Smishing can be very lucrative. According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers lost $86 million in 2020 as a result of scam texts. RoboKiller estimates that number is in the billions because many go unreported.

So how can people protect themselves?

“As far as these types of things go, unfortunately, the answer is probably if you get a message from your cell phone provider, you know, go directly to their website and interact with them that way. Don't click on what they send you,” said Hamerstone.

Hamerstone also urges anyone who falls victim to a smishing scam to report it to the FTC. He said more reporting may alert authorities to more victims of a specific thief and help organizations prevent scams in better ways.

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