Many folks are aware of the problem of phishing, where you get a strange e-mail informing you that you’ve won some e-mail lottery, or that your account has been locked and you need to verify your information to unlock it, or even that someone you know is in trouble somewhere and they need your monetary help to be able to get home. This causes you to willingly give your information over to the identity thieves in the hopes of getting a return on that information in some way. Smishing is similar to this practice, but it involves attempting to get your information from a SMS text that you receive.
Smishing involves receiving a very tempting text that seems rather believable. It could say that you’ve won a $1,000 gift card to one of your favorite stores, that you’ve won a free vacation, that you’ve been signed up for a website that will cost you $5/day if you don’t unsubscribe, or even that your spouse has lost their phone and needs help at this new number. The variables are absolutely endless, but there is one thing in common with them all: that you don’t remember entering into a contest, signing up for anything, or that your loved ones wouldn’t text you in such a way if they were in trouble.
That doesn’t stop people from clicking on that included link sometimes from their smartphone – you know, on the off-chance that it might be true and they might be able to purchase a new PS3 or something. If you’re one of those folks who ends up clicking those links sometimes, as one of my favorite authors would put it – don’t panic! Clicking a link might transmit some data about your phone to the potential identity thieves and you might have some malware installed, but nothing that is irrecoverable. The trouble comes when you start putting in your personal details to submit through the link where Smishing becomes an issue.
If you are curious about a SMS link that you have received and you want to investigate it, an easy way to get around some of the issues is to plug the link you receive into a web browser on your computer that has current anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-malware definitions. This way, if the link isn’t a true prize, you will be protected through your computer instead of having your smartphone exposed that is likely running no protections whatsoever.
Another easy way to determine if a SMS text you have received is legitimate is to simply call the customer service department of the company in question, like your bank, or to contact your loved ones on your own to verify the story. If you have won something or have been signed up for something without your permission, contacting a company directly will give you the accurate information you need. In the off chance that there are charges on your credit or debit account that aren’t supposed to be there, you can immediately contest them.
Some other easy ways that you can help to protect yourself from Smishing schemes are:
- to not reply to the SMS text;
- to teach our kids about Smishing so they don’t become victims as well;
- to forward a copy of the Smishing text to your cell phone provider to alert them to the scheme;
- to place a fraud alert on your credit report if you believe you may have inadvertently given sensitive information away; or
- to sign up for a comprehensive identity theft protection plan from a preferred provider.
If you believe that you have been a victim of a Smishing scam, you should also file a complaint at https://www.ftc.gov, and then be sure to visit the remainder of this site so that you can learn what you can do to help prevent this from happening to you again in the future. Protecting your identity is becoming more and more critical with every passing day. Knowing what Smishing is and not falling into its trap is just another way that you can fight the evils of identity theft and not let the criminals win.
Mike Carter writes about consumer credit for SIF. He has been a speaker at Financial Freedom Summit in California. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, MarketWatch, USA Today and MSN Money, and on the Associated Press wire. At one point he held a perfect 850 credit score and he is a serial mortgage refinancer.