The Alarming Growth of Smishing: 10 Ways to Identify an SMS Scam and Protect Yourself

With the rise of mobile technology and its widespread usage, cybercriminals have found new avenues to exploit unsuspecting individuals. One such method gaining significant traction is smishing, a form of phishing that targets individuals through text messages (SMS) on their smartphones.  

Understanding Smishing 

Smishing, a combination of “SMS” and “phishing,” refers to the act of using deceptive text messages to trick individuals into divulging personal information, clicking on malicious links, or installing malware-infected applications. Cybercriminals employ various tactics, such as urgency, fear, or enticing offers, to manipulate victims into taking actions that compromise their security. Often, they sound genuine, but can ask you to click on a specific link or provide personal information.  

How do Smishing Attacks Work? 

Smishing attacks operate by exploiting the trust and reliance people have on their mobile devices. Cybercriminals employ various tactics to deceive and manipulate individuals through text messages. These messages often appear legitimate, impersonating trusted organizations or services. They may contain urgent or alarming content, creating a sense of urgency that compels recipients to take immediate action. This action typically involves clicking on malicious links that can lead to the installation of malware, divulging sensitive information, or directing victims to fake websites designed to collect personal data. By preying on human emotions, curiosity, and the desire for convenience, smishing attacks capitalize on our vulnerabilities, making it crucial to stay vigilant and informed to protect ourselves. 

If you’ve seen a text message with the above information, you’re not alone.  

Alarming Growth of Smishing Attacks 

The growth of smishing attacks has been staggering in recent years. Advancements in technology have made it easier for scammers to send mass text messages, making it a cost-effective method for their illicit activities. Additionally, the ubiquity of smartphones and the prevalence of mobile banking, eCommerce, and online transactions have provided a rich hunting ground for cybercriminals. 

Here are some numbers that show the widespread nature of this problem. 

  • On average, Americans receive 41 spam texts per person per month. This amounts to 2,649,564,381 spam texts per week.  
  • Tax scams are the most common type of smishing attack. 
  • Less than 35% of Americans aged between 23-38 could recognize an SMS scam. This went down to less than 23% in people who are over 55 years.  
  • The median loss due to a smishing attack is $1,170. 
  • SMS scams rose by 76% in 2022. 
  • Messages impersonating USPS, FedEx, and Amazon accounted for 26% of all smishing attacks in 2021.  

Much of the reason for these growing numbers is the unsuspecting nature of these messages as that’s what makes them hard to recognize. 

10 Ways to Recognize Smishing Attacks 

To protect yourself from smishing attacks, it’s crucial to be able to recognize the signs of a potential scam. Here are some common characteristics of smishing messages: 

  1. Urgency or fear tactics: Smishing messages often create a sense of urgency, fear, or panic, pressuring you to act quickly without thinking rationally. 
  2. Unsolicited messages: If you receive a text message from an unknown number or a sender you don’t recognize, be cautious, especially if it involves personal or financial information.  
  3. Suspicious links: Smishing messages often contain shortened or misleading URLs. Hover over the link (without clicking) to check its destination. If it looks unfamiliar or suspicious, refrain from clicking. 
  4. Poor grammar and spelling errors: Many smishing messages exhibit grammatical mistakes or spelling errors. Legitimate organizations typically maintain a higher level of professionalism in their communications.  
  5. Requests for personal information: Be wary of text messages that request personal information, such as Social Security numbers, bank account details, or passwords. Legitimate organizations usually don’t ask for such sensitive data via text. 
  6. Unfamiliar senders posing as trusted entities: Cybercriminals often impersonate well-known institutions or service providers to gain victims’ trust. Be cautious if a text message claims to be from your bank, a government agency, or a popular online service. 
  7. Unusual or unexpected offers: If a text message promises unbelievable deals, prizes, or rewards, exercise caution. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 
  8. Spontaneous notifications about accounts or transactions: Be suspicious of text messages notifying you of unauthorized account access, suspicious transactions, or account closures, especially if you don’t use the mentioned service or have any prior knowledge of the issue. 
  9. Mismatched sender and domain: Pay attention to the sender’s phone number or domain name in the text message. If they don’t align with the organization they claim to represent, it’s likely a smishing attempt. 
  10. Unusual request for financial transactions: If you receive a text message asking you to transfer money, make payments, or provide credit card information, be highly skeptical. Verify the legitimacy of such requests through independent channels before taking any action. 

Remember, being vigilant and employing critical thinking when dealing with text messages can help you identify and avoid smishing attacks and protecting yourself and your personal information from falling into the hands of cybercriminals. 

How Will Smishing Impact Me? 

Smishing attacks can have severe consequences for individuals who fall victim to them. These scams can result in financial loss, identity theft, unauthorized access to personal accounts, and the installation of malware or ransomware on mobile devices. Furthermore, the emotional toll and loss of trust in digital communication can be long-lasting for those affected. 

10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Smishing Attacks 

While smishing attacks are becoming more sophisticated, there are proactive steps individuals can take to safeguard their personal information. Here are essential measures to protect yourself from smishing attacks: 

  1. Educate yourself: Stay informed about the latest smishing techniques and tactics employed by cybercriminals. Regularly educate yourself about common indicators of smishing attacks and share this knowledge with friends and family. 
  2. Be skeptical: Develop a healthy skepticism towards unsolicited text messages, especially those requesting personal information or demanding immediate action. Think critically before responding or clicking on any links. 
  3. Verify the source: Independently verify the authenticity of a text message by contacting the organization or service provider directly through official channels. Use contact information from their official website or verified sources rather than relying on information provided in the suspicious message. 
  4. Avoid clicking on links: Refrain from clicking on links in text messages, especially if you’re unsure of their legitimacy. Instead, manually enter the official website address into your browser or use a search engine to find the organization’s website. 
  5. Be cautious with personal information: Never share sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers, banking details, or passwords, via text message. Legitimate organizations would typically employ more secure channels for such communications. 
  6. Secure your devices: Keep your mobile devices and their operating systems up to date with the latest security patches. Install reputable antivirus and security software on your smartphones to detect and block potential smishing attempts or malicious applications. 
  7. Utilize spam filters: Enable spam filters on your messaging apps or through your mobile service provider to help identify and block suspicious text messages. 
  8. Don’t trust caller ID alone: Scammers may spoof phone numbers to make their messages appear to come from a trusted source. Don’t solely rely on the caller ID displayed on your screen. 
  9. Use two-factor authentication (2FA): Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a secondary verification method, such as a unique code sent via a different communication channel, before accessing your accounts. 
  10. Report smishing attempts: If you receive a smishing message, report it to your mobile service provider, as well as to the appropriate authorities or regulatory bodies in your country. Reporting helps in tracking and combating these cybercrimes. 

By following these protective measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to smishing attacks and safeguard your personal information and digital identity. Stay proactive, stay cautious, and prioritize your online security. 

Safeguarding Your Digital World from Smishing Attacks 

As smishing attacks continue to grow at an alarming rate, it is crucial to remain vigilant and educate us about this evolving threat. By recognizing the signs of such attacks and following the recommended protective measures, you can reduce the risk of falling victim to these scams. Stay informed, be cautious, and prioritize the security of your personal information in the age of SMS scams. 

If you believe you’ve been a victim of a smishing attack or want help to boost your online security, contact the cybersecurity experts at Threat Alliance.