Smishing: The new text message scam that is targeting your cell phone

Crooks are now using legitimate-looking text messages to set you up to be scammed.

You’ve probably heard of (or even received) phishing emails in the past. Those are mass emails sent out by fraudsters masked to look like legitimate communications from trusted institutions. An email from your bank about account information. Something from the CRA about taxes you owe or a refund due to you. (Something far more believable than pleas for help from a stranded Nigerian millionaire prince.)

They’re called phishing emails because the crooks send out thousands of them ‘fishing’ for responses from unsuspecting victims. When someone falls for it and makes contact, they find a way to scam money or valuable personal information out of them.

The latest update to this con is sending the fraudulent messages by SMS or text messages directly to cell phones. It’s called smishing: a word formed from mashing up SMS with phishing. The RCMP spells it with annoying capitalization ‘SMiShing.’ I’m not going to do that.

One common smishing is scam is to send a text message purportedly from your bank saying that they need you to update your account details or to speak with you urgently. The text will contain a contact link or a phone number to call. The goal is to get you to turn over information that will allow them to access your accounts or steal your identity.

The CBC reported recently on a smishing scam where people were receiving personal messages from someone named ‘Gordon’ saying: “It’s urgent please contact me for an UNCLAIMED BENEFIT PAYMENT” followed by his email address. Again, the attempt is get you to reach out and start an exchange of banking information so that you can receive your “BENEFIT PAYMENT.”

Another common scam is the faux offer. This is where you are offered a job or a chance to make money from the organization doing the texting. They’ll even send you a large cheque up front. The catch is, you are instructed to deposit the cheque in your own bank account, but then transfer a large portion of it to a third party. When the cheque bounces, you’re on the hook for the money owed back to your bank and the organization you were supposed to be working for is long gone.

There was a vehicle wrapping advertising scam that cost people across Canada thousands of dollars each late last year that began with smishing texts offering a chance to earn money.

Protect yourself from smishing scams:

  • If your bank doesn’t normally communicate with you by text message, be suspicious when they suddenly do about an “urgent matter”. Even if you think it might be genuine, you don’t have to call the number sent to you via text message. Call your branch directly and follow-up.
  • Do not click on links sent to you in unsolicited text messages (or emails for that matter.) Phishers and smishers have gotten very good at making their communications appear to be from legitimate sources. Always proceed with caution.
  • If someone you don’t know gets in touch with you offering you money from a benefit you didn’t know you had coming to you, delete the message. Nobody out there secretly owes you money that you didn’t know about.
  • Never give away any personal details, financial information, PIN numbers, or passwords in response to a text message or email.
  • Watch out for URGENT requests for a response, ALL CAPS, and typos as these are often signs that the message is not coming from a professional source.
  • The CRA will never text you about your tax returns.

If you are the victim of a scam – or even just the intended target of one, the RCMP asks that you report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. That site also contains the latest updates on frauds going around in this country and tips on how to best protect yourself.

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