“Hi Pooja, it’s Bob from your bank. Your payment can’t be processed. Please reprocess by clicking the link below.”
Chances are you’ve received some iteration of that text message recently. Gone are the days when spam messages were limited to phone calls and emails. While it was usually obvious that a voice at the other end of the call was trying to gather sensitive personal information from you or that the email request from yet another Nigerian prince was bogus, spam text messages are not always immediately recognizable.
Ninety-seven percent of Americans own a phone of some kind. And because mobile usage is increasingly our primary point of connection, there are increasing spam tactics, scams and phishing attempts that are impacting consumers, which means we all need to be hyper aware and not always engage when receiving random or unusual texts.
“Any path of communication is abused by bad people. Text has become one of the most common ways for people to communicate, so that is where the attackers go. Sadly, it is effective,” said Kevin Johnson, a security analyst and CEO of Secure Ideas.
Receiving spam text messages is not only supremely annoying, but can be dangerous as spammers may be phishing to harvest your personal data or send you malware. Here are some expert-backed tips on how to spot and stop spam text messages and ensure you stay safe.
1. Carefully Read Messages And Ignore Unknown Contacts
Be diligent when receiving texts from unknown contacts, or in Johnson’s words, “Don’t fall for the scam.” When receiving a message from someone who is not on your contact list, look for tell-tale spam clues such as incorrect spelling or grammar. Chances are that within the message, there are misspelled links or brand names, as well as unexpected free offerings such as gift cards, free vacations or loans, or inquiries supposedly from government agencies.
Pro tip: Government agencies will never initiate contact by text. If it sounds too good to be true, chances are it is.
Same goes for messages from people pretending to be someone else. “When you get a message demanding something (i.e. ‘This is your boss, and I need your help’ messages), think before reacting. If it is saying it is your boss, is it? Probably not. Especially if it isn’t from their number. Is it from your bank? Then call your bank directly; don’t interact with the SMS message,” Johnson added.
You can protect yourself by simply not opening messages from unknown numbers and blocking unknown contacts.
2. Put Yourself On Do Not Text Lists
Grant Gibson, executive vice president of the cybersecurity company CIBR Ready, recommends getting on do not call and do not text lists to prevent unsolicited calls and texts from telemarketers.
For instance, you can register your home or cell phone number online for free at the National Do Not Call Registry run by the Federal Trade Commission, or you can call to register at 1-888-382-1222. If calling, make sure to do so from the phone number you wish to register. These methods will also prevent telemarketers from texting you.
3. Consider Using An Alternative Number
Alternative numbers are a simple step you can take to secure yourself, Gibson said.
“Another option is to use a Google Voice number, or any other alternate burner number. You can route that number to your email or a secondary email you’ve created, which could greatly reduce the number of texts you receive on your primary number. An example of this would be using this alternate number when creating online accounts, making purchases or entering online contests,” Gibson suggested, adding, “Think of how much information you share with your friends and family via text. Imagine if that person on the other end was a bad guy instead?”
Registering on the Do Not Call list and using an alternative number can go a long way, because once your number is found or has been tagged, you may be inundated with messages. Practice being diligent to protect your primary line.
4. Never Share Personal Information Over Text
If you receive spam text messages, be sure not to respond to any of them, and if you do, don’t share any personal information like your social security number, bank account details, address or any other identifying information.
To go one step further, Gibson suggested utilizing an identity protection service or credit monitoring service that can alert you of changes on your accounts. Monitoring services typically charge a fee, but you may likely be able to check your own credit for free through your bank or credit card company, plus receive a full credit report for free once a year via annualcreditreport.com.
Johnson also recommends moving normal communications to Signal, a free privacy-focused messaging and voice talk app you can use on both Apple and Android smartphones and via desktop. Communications on Signal are end-to-end encrypted. This means the content of the messages you send and calls you have are private, unlike SMS messages, which are standard text messages of up to 160 characters that are sent using a cellular signal instead of an internet connection.
“Stop using SMS for regular communication,” Johnson said. “That way, any unsolicited text messaging will stand out as odd to you, so it is more likely you will think about the message before reacting to it.”
In addition to SMS messages being limited in length, they are not typically encrypted and are sent over open networks.
5. Involve Your Service Provider And Change This One Important Setting On Your Phone Itself
Both Johnson and Gibson recommend pushing telephone providers and carriers to provide more protections when it comes to receiving spam text messages. These entities are becoming better at identifying and removing spam phone numbers. You should forward any suspicious messages to 7726, which spells “SPAM.” Most providers — including AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon — will launch an investigation and take steps to prevent you from receiving further spam messages.
Service providers typically have additional steps you can look into as well. For example, if you are with AT&T and can’t see the phone number of a spam text, you can forward the entire message to this AT&T email address. Verizon has an internal service you can reach out to if you did click a link or provide personal information in response to a suspicious text message, and T-Mobile offers scam protection with Scam ID and Scam Block.
In addition to these steps by carriers, there is also an option to filter unknown messages on your phone itself so they’ll be moved to a different folder where you can review them.
If you are an Apple user, go to your iPhone’s Settings, then choose Messages and scroll down, tap Filters, then tap to turn on “Filter Unknown Senders.” If you are an Android user, go to your messaging app, click the three dots icon in the upper right-hand corner of the screen and tap Settings. In Settings, scroll to Spam Protection and select “Enable Spam Protection.”
Filtered spam messages are still a nuisance, but at least you have them saved in one place so that you can mass delete them and not risk accidentally responding or clicking on a suspicious link.