If it seems like you’re getting more scam texts than ever before, it’s probably because you are. New research shows that scammers are increasingly reaching out via SMS. And, it’s working: fraud losses from scams that started with a text message are tracking way up. If you get a text from an unknown number — or, a text from your own phone number, which is a big red flag — the best bet is to delete the message and move on.
Scam texts aren't anything new. But, they are increasing.
New research shows that over the last few months, rates of unsolicited text messages have skyrocketed — and we are seeing that play out firsthand.
"We’ve been experiencing a spike in calls from subscribers who are concerned about the barrage of spam texts,” says Doug Kaplan, Allstate Identity Protection Senior Vice President of Operations.
People are right to be concerned, because bogus texts are more than just a nuisance. We’ve seen these texts be an easy in for fraudsters and identity thieves.
That matches findings from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which show that Americans lost at least $131 million to fraud initiated by text messages in 2021. That’s a 50 percent increase from the year prior.
This year, that number is tracking way up. In just the first quarter of 2022, Americans reported losing more than $64 million to scams that began with a text message, according to the FTC. The median loss reported was $1,000.
The same research shows that text messages were the most common contact method used to initiate fraud, outpacing phone calls, emails, and social media.
Why are scam texts so effective?
It’s no surprise that scammers are increasingly turning to text messaging. It’s a convenient way to reach a lot of people.
According to the Pew Research Center, virtually every American adult owns a mobile phone, and nearly every cell can receive text messages.
It’s easy enough to completely ignore a call from an unknown number. But with a text, you may see some of the message even before you click to open it. This gives scammers a better chance of hooking you.
Plus, open rates are higher for texts than emails, which means fraudsters who reach out over text have a better chance of connecting with potential victims.
What to watch out for
So, how can you reduce your risk of falling victim to a scam text?
“When our members call us about suspicious texts, we educate them on how to protect themselves,” says Kaplan. “That’s really the best defense.”
A good first step is to understand the basic strategies scammers use in SMS messages. Keep in mind that scammers may:
pose as a legitimate business, government agency, or even a trusted friend in an SMS message
spoof your Caller ID to make it seem like their message is coming from your own phone number to get your attention
In addition, be on the lookout for these common types of scam texts:
“You have a package out for delivery.” A scammer texts to say you have a package en route. They often share a link — which may or may not contain malware — and ask you to enter payment information to cover shipping costs.
“You’ve won a prize!” In this scenario, known as a lottery scam, victims are directed to click a malicious link to claim their winnings.
“Your account needs updating.” Fraudsters contact you posing as a bank, healthcare organization, service provider (like a wireless network), or a government entity, such as the IRS. They alert you to a phony invoice, refund, or account update needing your attention and supply a link to a spoofed website.
“I’m in trouble — can you help?” Relational scams, in which a texter pretends to be a family member or friend in trouble, are widespread as well.
Whatever the ruse, the goal is the same: to lure you into sharing personal information, financial information (e.g., your credit or debit card number), or money (scammers most often request that money be sent through wire transfer). One simple way to avoid this? Make it a rule not to share sensitive details or send payment via text.
Is that text legit? Here are 3 things to consider
Companies need your consent to reach out via SMS. If you receive a text that claims to be from a legitimate business but you haven’t given consent, it’s probably fraudulent.
Commercial messages are typically sent from 4-, 5- or 6-digit numbers. Scammers most often use 10- or 11-digital numbers.
Government agencies, healthcare providers, and businesses will never reach out via text about an invoice or account problem.
How to tell a real text from a fake
With more businesses using SMS to communicate with their customers (see the high open rates mentioned above), it can be helpful to know how to differentiate a real marketing message from a scam.
Here’s a tip: Legitimate commercial messages are typically sent from shortcode 4-, 5- or 6-digit numbers. On the other hand, scammers most often use 10- or 11-digital numbers.
Keep in mind that you have to give businesses consent to text you — so consider whether you’ve done so when a text claims to be from an organization you trust. Know too that businesses are required to include key verbiage in their initial correspondence, including the option to “opt out” of messaging and a notice that data rates may apply.
Finally, know that government entities, banks, healthcare providers, and private businesses will never use text messages to reach out to you about an outstanding invoice or account problem; they would relay that type of information by mail.
Safeguard yourself from text scammers
Given all this, it’s smart to approach any unsolicited text message with caution. Never click a link or download a file you receive from an unknown number.
If you suspect that a text is a scam, resist the urge to reply — even with the word “stop” or “unsubscribe.” Doing so may tag your number as active, which can prompt the scammer to double down on their efforts.
Consider any request for your personal or financial information a major red flag and do not proceed.
It’s important to acknowledge that scammers are smart. If you or someone you love should fall victim to fraud that’s initiated through a text message or any other means, we’re here for you. Our U.S.-based Identity Specialists are trained to help you if fraud should occur.
If you want to take additional action to help others avoid fraud, you can forward unwanted texts to 7726 (SPAM), which alerts your service provider. This can help reduce the risk that others will be targeted.
You can also report the fraud attempt to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov, and block the number on your phone.
Then, delete the text and move on.