In 2022, 68.4 million Americans encountered a phone scam. Threats involving phones have surged over the decades with the rise of phone users. Robocalls and deceptive telemarketers are all too familiar for many people, thanks to the repeated warnings by federal authorities and the media attention they have drawn. But they are not the only phone-related threats you stand to experience.
Today, we discuss a less spoken-about phone scam—smishing—that has been quietly growing in number. If you are unfamiliar with it, keep reading to learn more.
What Is Smishing?
Smishing is similar to phishing but relies on SMSs, instead of phone calls or emails, to steal valuable data, often using deception.
Scammers might impersonate someone you already know to trick you into revealing sensitive information. They could also use links to direct you to malicious websites or download malware via an SMS link to draw out useful details.
But what type of information would they want to steal? Anything they can benefit from. It could be your name, location, email address, account passwords, credit card information, web and phone activities, and even sensitive documents.
Why Is Smishing Dangerous?
The answer to this question lies in the value of digital data. What may seem a trivial piece of information can be worth a lot for a shady actor. They can make money from it in numerous ways. For instance, they can sell it on the dark web or use it as a shield to commit crimes under your name, steal money from you, or deceive someone else.
To demonstrate, let’s take a few examples of smishing incidents and the potential repercussions:
A scammer impersonating your bank sends you an SMS asking you to follow a link to update your online login password. To avoid raising suspicion, the link takes you to a page identical to the login page of the bank.
Without realizing you have just stepped into a spoofed site, you enter your username and password, giving scammers instant access to your bank’s login credentials. The rest, as you might say, is history—the fraudsters wipe out all your savings before you realize what has transpired.
You receive an SMS from your email service provider informing you that your account is temporarily deactivated due to a security threat. To reactivate it, you must click the link provided in the message and log in.
The SMS is sent by a fraudster, and the link directs you to a spoofed site that resembles the one used by the email provider.
Suspecting nothing, you enter the required login information, which the scammers record and use to access your inbox. After that, they start impersonating you and sending deceptive emails to your contacts. For instance, they may pretend that you are in trouble and ask your friends and family for urgent financial help by way of a wire transfer to an account they have given.
Your favorite streaming site shares a link via an SMS for you to download its latest entertainment app. The new app is full of exciting shows but is still in the beta stage. Since you are a loyal customer, they are giving you exclusive access to enjoy it for free for a limited period. All you need to do is click the link and download the app.
Little do you realize that the SMS originated from an impersonator, not the streaming site. The link downloads malicious software that extracts personal information from devices. By clicking it, you allow deceptive actors to access your phone and the data contained in it, compromising both your privacy and security.
How Can You Remain Safe From Smishing Attacks?
Here are the essential tips and tricks to ward off smishing threats and ensure a safe phone experience.
• Practice caution
When it comes to avoiding scams, most experts would say trust no one. This piece of advice holds true for smishing as well.
Remember, a faceless message can originate from anywhere. Number spoofing, SIM swapping, and similar advanced techniques available today make it easier to mimic and steal contact numbers.
So, being cautious is extremely important, even when you think you recognize the message sender.
• Verify before you respond or react
Of course, not every SMS requires verification. But when it involves taking some form of action that could potentially compromise your safety, you must first find out who you are dealing with.
If it appears to be someone you already know or are familiar with, call them on their regular number. When you don’t recognize the message sender, reverse search their phone number on Nuwber to check who owns it.
As for promotions, offers, and too-good-to-be-true deals, research them online before you respond in haste. If you can’t find enough information, it is best to let them go.
• Access websites using their regular URLs
Never click unverified links, even when they are shared by someone you know. If you need to visit a particular website, find its web address online and type it in on your browser.
• Protect your devices with a virus-guard
Anti-malware software can scan your device for viruses and flag suspicious websites. So, installing one is essential for any device connected to the internet.
• Keep your phone number secure
To minimize the risk of spam and smishing attacks, avoid sharing your contact details with third parties without a valid reason. Opt for a secondary phone number if you need to give it away for business or professional purposes.
Using SMSs, criminals can steal a surprising amount of information that could risk your safety and privacy. They can target you for identity theft and financial fraud and commit various deceptive acts to defraud others.
However, by taking effective measures, you can easily avoid smishing threats and safeguard your personal data. So, practice caution and verify messages before you react. Avoiding suspicious links, securing your phone with a virus guard, and keeping your contact details private is important, too. These simple steps can go a long way in ensuring your safety.