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- Spam messages can be more than annoying as more and more advanced approaches may contain malware or phishing attempts to obtain personal information.
- The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced a goal in 2021 to help reduce spam.
- There are approximately 87 billion spam messages per year, and they are steadily increasing.
Call a scam SMS whatever you want – spam or even a “smishing attack” (yes, it’s an SMS game about phishing) – but no matter what you call them, they’re damn annoying, they’re at the rise, and they often come with security traps.
In 2020, spam messages overtook spam calls as the most common form of scam for the second year in a row. In 2021, a 58% increase in fraudulent text messages brought the total number in the United States to 87.8 billion, according to a February 2022 report. report from RoboKiller, a blocker of unwanted calls and SMS. That’s more than 15 billion more scam attempts by SMS than by phone.
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Designed to trick you into inviting malware onto your device, giving away personal or banking information, or simply spending money on something that isn’t real, scam text is here to stay unless the government, mobile operators and individuals cannot do enough to defend themselves.
How spam works
With the smart technology making texting a reality, there’s also an opportunity for “bad actors,” what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and others like to call the criminals behind smishing, to unload torrents of SMS. Typically sent from overseas, these automated text messages are sent in batches, spoofing local numbers so it appears to be someone local to your location. Of course, smishing has become sophisticated enough that sometimes attacks are personalized, and criminals spoof your own number to make it appear as if your the phone sends you a (scary!) text message. Other times, bad actors can spoof trusted numbers from your area.
Regardless of how the text is spoofed and sent, the goal is for you to open the smishing invitation and then take action that benefits the criminals behind it. Whether they seek to install malware on your device that can extract information for later use, trick you into entering your address or other personal information they can use later, or offer passwords that introduce them in your personal or financial information, they’re trying to steal something from you.
Ongoing efforts to reduce spam
As smishing steadily increases, the government and mobile carriers have begun to respond. Most mobile carriers already have built-in spam blocking software, which attempts to limit both unwanted calls and unwanted text messages.
A government bill in 2019 gave the FCC and the US Department of Justice more power to fight scammers and forced phone companies to upgrade technology. The FCC has raises the stakes in his approach to fine scammers when it can, and has implemented a national do-not-call registry. The exact strategy the FCC will adopt against smishing will likely evolve, but expect a more concerted effort from the government and mobile carriers.
In October 2021, for example, the FCC announced a plan to “take action to address this latest wave of fraud and identify how wireless carriers can block these automated messages before they have a chance to cause harm,” Jessica Rosenworcel, president of the agency, said in a statement.
Tips to stop spam
In 2021, the most common form of smishing (25% of all messages) was related to a “ghost package delivery”, attempting to obtain an individual’s physical address and possibly additional information. From there, many smishing messages attempted to trick people into providing banking information, Apple IDs, or plotting COVID-19 and healthcare-related scams. In almost all smishing strategies, bad actors present themselves as someone they are not. Don’t be fooled.
• Do not click any connections. Arguably one of the most dangerous things you can do is click on a link in smishing text. This opens your device to potential malware.
• Do not disclose personal information. If you somehow missed the first step and clicked on a link, don’t give any information, because that invites trouble. For any reputable company, you can go to their website, log in, and take care of any issues that may arise with your account or delivery (but you’ll probably find there isn’t because it’s was an attempt at smishing).
• Do not respond in any way. Even answering “no” or “stop” alerts the smishing software that your phone number is active and opens the door to further attempts.
• List your phone number in the FCC’s National Do Not Call Registry. As the FCC continues to expand its efforts, this may help.
• Sign up for your wireless service provider’s call blocking service. Wireless carriers are required by law to improve their spam blocking software, so enabling this service can help reduce at least some smishing attacks.
• Report spam messages. Whether you have an iPhone or Android, both have easy ways to report spam right from your messaging app. Do this to create a library of blocked users.
• Block individual numbers. In some cases, you may receive repeated spam texts from the same number. You can block numbers individually.
• Filter unknown senders. Messaging apps can take different approaches, but an Android lets you turn on spam protection in case the text is potential spam, and an iPhone will filter messages from unknown senders into a separate folder.
• Limit where your mobile number appears. While there’s no way to completely prevent your mobile number from being broadcast, limit public postings of your number. (Last month, Google announced a tool to remove your personal information from search results.)
• Report the attack. You can forward the smishing text to your wireless carrier by texting it to 7726 (SPAM) or report it to the FCC to help narrow the problem.
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