There is a new high tech phone scam that attacks smart phone users. This technique tricks victims into handing over vital identity information. The scam is operated through mass messages to mobile phones. A cell phone number is personal and you generally only put the number on applications forms you fill out or give it to friends. This can give you a false sense of security. You assume that anyone contacting you is legitimate. That is not always the case. If you ever get messages about accounts being compromised or warnings asking for information from you, beware.
Bank text Alerts
Some banks allow you to sign up for text alerts where if your account balance reaches a low threshold that you specify, the bank will send you an imminent overdraft warning message. If your bank balance goes down to say five dollars or less, you can set up an automated warning text to get a text message from your bank. The problem is that scammers know this. They know that people give their cell phone numbers to the banks to get text alerts and they try to take advantage of this. They try to pretend they are the bank and send you a fraudulent alert.
There was a recent large scale attack that was a very sophisticated mass delivered to individuals with cell phones in the western US. The message was a message that said Wells Fargo notice your card has been been compromised and deactivated. Then they give you a number to call for more information. When you call it, they ask for personal information such as your social security number and your account number to verify your identify and reactivate your card. It isn’t really the bank though. It’s just scammers trying to cast a wide net. If you have an account with Wells Fargo and have text alerts set up you might really think this was a valid text from the bank and call in. Then, you get identity robbed by the scammers!
Always watch out for smishing. Smishing is an abbreviation for text message (SMS or short message service) and Phishing which is the standard term for phishing for information as part of a web scam. Smart phone users should be extremely wary of getting texts or voice messages that dig for personal identification or account information. If you get any automated voice mails or e-mails to your smart phones be aware that there is the possibility they are bogus. You might want to go into your bank branch in person if you get a message to your cell phone and aren’t sure if it is legitimate. Look into it carefully. Peoples cell phones are becoming like their computers and since its with you at all times it makes you available to be scammed pretty much 24/7.
The smart phone scams work by casting a wide net. The criminals set up an automated dialing or in this case texting system and can mass text all of the people in a particular group, area code, or region. How do they get your number? They use stolen customer phone numbers that they buy or wiretap from institutions such as banks or credit unions. Once they have all of your personal banking information in hand, they can potentially drain your bank account, buy things online or set up a new phony account using your good credit.
Some cell phone users inadvertently respond to a sales pitch or offer of free goods and services. For example, an offer of free ring tones could lead you to a sight that surreptitiously downloads malware onto your smart phone. The malware is designed to mine your personal information when you respond to their scam emails.
Most people are accustomed to sniffing out spam on their computer. They either let the system filter it out or they just move to spam any emails that look suspicious. The problem is that emails on smart phones is a newer thing. Users aren’t as used to sniffing for spam. If they get a bizarre email about technology they might assume its coming from their cell phone carrier. If they are told they are winning a lottery are entitled to free cell phone related services they might fall for it. Their guard is down and they might have an instant reaction.
There is a sense or urgency when messages come to your smart phone verses your computer. Crooks take advantage of that and try to scam you. They play on your flight or flight response and coax you with well designed phishing/smishing scams to get you to respond. Bogus emails, links to bogus sites, and requests for information are harder to screen on the cell phone. For one thing, if you are sent a link to update your banking information or check your balance, you might find the web site you are directed to looks legitimate when in fact it is not. The screen on the smart phone is so small it is hard to tell if a web site is a fake.
Crooks take advantage of peoples use of bank text alerts and can send fraudulent phishing emails or texts asking for personal account information to rectify a problem. They can also pose as your cell phone carrier for example, sending you a message that is purportedly from Verizon or T-mobile when it is not. Children can often download phishing malware onto your phone by falling for offers of free electronics, cell phone games, or ring tones. Don’t fall for it.
If you get suspicious offers of free services or downloads be wary. If you get suspicious banking messages look into it. Call into the banks automated service using the number you already have. Call the 800 number on your real bank card or the one that you’ve used before such as the number that always appears on all your checks. Don’t use the one the scammers give you. Better yet, go into your bank in person to see if there really is a problem. Be cautious when using your cell phone and realize that scammers and crooks can now text scam you. You might be less inclined to realize a text message is a scam that you would be with a suspicious email.