Q: I seem to be getting more spam text messages on my phone these days; I reply with “stop” like they say, but it doesn’t always seem to work. — Andrea
A: Spammers are notorious for figuring out ways to exploit our communication systems to annoy us and text messaging spam is just the latest.
Although text spam in the early days was mostly annoying pitches for junk we didn’t want, we are seeing more “smishing” messages these days.
Smishing is a phishing scam perpetrated over SMS (Short Message Service) a.k.a. text messaging and many of the current attempts are using popular brand names in the messages to convince you that they are legitimate.
Many of them are posing as a message proclaiming that you won something from major brand XXX and all you have to do is click the link to tell them where to ship it.
Others will pretend to be your bank alerting you of a problem or a popular e-commerce website saying that you need to update your profile.
In most of the cases, they include a link that generally leads to a rogue website that has been setup to look exactly like the brands existing sites so they can “phish” your personal account information from you.
The key is to never click on any of the links even if you believe the information is legitimate (and assume anything that claims you won something is a scam). Instead, always go to the company’s website yourself and login to your account to see if the same “warning” or update shows up.
In some cases, you are prompted to call a certain phone number, which can be rigged to charge your account for a very expensive phone-based service.
The only way that a legitimate company would ever send you any information via a text message is if you previously signed up for that type of communication such as Facebook’s Login Approvals or Gmail’s 2 factor authentication.
Most legitimate communications from services that you signed up will also be simple information messages with no links or phone numbers to call. For instance, I love that I can tell Southwest Airlines to text me if my flight has been delayed or has changed gates, but they don’t ever include a prompt to click on anything.
The only time replying with the universal “stop” command works is when it’s a legit service and it’s actually from a short code number, not a phone number. Replying “stop” to spam text messages will likely generate more spam since you have validated your number (just like it does with email spam), so I would only use the “stop” command when you know you signed up for a text service.
The spammers can also use caller ID spoofing meaning that what’s listed as the sender of the text message may not actually be where it’s coming from, so don’t assume a strange message from a familiar number is safe.
Cellular companies use keyword filtering systems for their text messaging networks just like email providers do, so you can help them stay up to date with current scams by forwarding a copy of the message to 7726 (SPAM).
There are no charges assessed for reporting spam text messages and it does not count towards your voice, data or text usage on the network.
Don’t modify the message in any way, just forward it as it appears so it is accurately reported.
Android users can press and hold the message to see the “Forward” option and iPhone users can press the “Edit” option with the text message open to expose the “Forward” option.
• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services. Email him at email@example.com.