Spam SMS won’t go away anytime soon. 6 ways to avoid the latest ploys

You may have noticed more text messages from “AT&T” referring to a bill payment, Where refund or one free benefit. The texts “Chase” warn against the accounts locked outside. “FedEx” alerts for a incomplete delivery. The messages can look real, especially if you have a service with the provider who appears to be sending you messages. But before you click on the link to get a “reward” for paying your bill, there are a few red flags to watch out for.

In the last diagram, crooks use trusted company names, links, and urgency to steal your information after clicking the link in a text message, which can lead to identity theft and fraud if you do it. Messages are expected to continue even though wireless operators have submitted a plan to stop robocalls – this does not include the workaround for spammers to send SMS. In fact, we’re expecting up to 86 billion texts, according to Robokiller’s August report.

It’s scary to think of accidentally clicking on the link or not thinking about the text. We will tell you what you can do now to protect your personal data and what to watch out for if you receive an SMS. Here is the latest on the FCC plans to stop robocalls, and how to use Apple’s Hide My Email Feature to keep your email spam free. This story was recently updated.


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First, never open the link

Crooks are tricky. They will send messages that appear to be from a legitimate company, such as your mobile carrier, bank, or medical facility, and will include a link asking you to verify your account information. The link then takes you to a site that may look real, but is actually bogus. The purpose is to collect your username, password and other personal information for future use.

If you receive an unexpected message that contains a link, do not open it. If you happen to open it, do not enter any account details or personal information.

Look at this fake Verizon site that was used in phishing attempts, as covered by How To Geek. The site looks real and even redirects to the official Verizon site after the nefarious actors take your account credentials. Scary stuff.

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Do not click on links in spam messages and do your research before answering “stop”.

Jason Cipriani / CNET

Do your research before responding with STOP

A common method of opting out of receiving non-malicious text messages (like this restaurant offering the free milkshake) is to reply to the message with “STOP”. This can be a quick and easy way to end messages on everything from a political campaign to your ISP.

But crooks use this same tool to trick you into replying to their messages, letting them know that your phone number is valid and that they can target with more messages or automated calls.

Instead of quickly responding STOP to an unsolicited message, take a few seconds to search the number online to see if a recognized organization or business is using it for text messages.

I checked the Comcast number, for example, by searching for “text from 266278” after receiving a message a few weeks ago asking if I wanted updates on an outage in my area. Indeed, the number I received the message from corresponded to a number of Comcast listings on its support page.

If you verify that a number is valid, respond with STOP to remove yourself from their distribution list.

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Report fraudulent messages to your operator.

Jason Cipriani / CNET

Report a bad message to your operator

If you can’t verify who sent a message, or if it is clearly a scam, you can forward the message to 7726 (it spells “spam” on a phone keypad).

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon accept all spam reports through this number. You may receive a follow-up message after reporting a message, requesting more information, or confirming the number from which the original message was sent.

Some carriers, such as Sprint, will even prevent the number from sending you messages after reporting it.

Use your phone’s built-in blocking tool

Another option is to block the number yourself. iOS and Android both have built-in tools to block messages and calls from specific numbers.

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You can still block the number.

Screenshots of Jason Cipriani / CNET

IPhone users

On a iPhone, open the message in the Messages app and tap the profile picture at the top, then tap the Info button. On the next screen, press the phone number, followed by Block this caller at the bottom of the next screen.

Following these steps will prevent the number from sending you messages and calling you.

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Google Messages will take additional steps to analyze and identify spam.

Screenshots of Jason Cipriani / CNET

IOS users can also filter unknown senders to automatically sort unknown numbers by switching to the Filter unknown senders in your settings for messages.

Android users

As is generally the case with Android phones, the process of blocking a number varies depending on who makes your phone and what messaging app you are using.

If you are using the Google Messages app, first open the spam message, then tap the menu button in the top right corner and select Details from the list of options. On the next screen, select Block and report spam followed by Okay. The Messages app will send the previous number and 10 messages to Google for analysis to improve future spam detection. Your replies to the number are not sent to Google. If you prefer to just block the number, uncheck the box next to “Report spam” before pressing Okay.

Samsung Messages users will need to open the conversation, tap the three-dot menu in the top right corner and select Block number > To block.

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If you are regularly annoyed, file a report with the FCC.

Angela Lang / CNET

Download an app to block spam messages

There are a few apps that can limit spam text messages. TextKiller is an application powered by Robokiller to automatically filter messages that would be considered spam using smart blocking. The app now also works with Apple Watches to help filter spam messages. You can also add phone numbers and keywords that you want to block.

File an FCC Complaint to Help Stop Spam Messages

If you would like to help combat current and future spam messages, and you are in the United States, you can file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission whenever you receive a message that falls into one of these three categories:

  • An unsolicited commercial text message
  • An automated message sent to your phone without your prior consent
  • An automated message from a telecommunications company or other company advertising the products or services of a telecommunications company sent without your prior consent

Visit this site to file a complaint with the FCC. This won’t immediately prevent messages from reaching your phone, but it will at least help the FCC track down the bad actors.

Just like you don’t have to deal with spam messages, you don’t have to deal with robocalls either. You won’t be able to end it for good, but you can at least reduce the number of rings on your phone. And remember, there are a lot of red flags regarding coronavirus scams, so make sure you know them all. While you’re at it, take a few minutes to secure your wireless account to prevent SIM swap fraud.

Originally published last year. Updated with new information.

About Geraldine Higgins

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