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How to spot smishing texts
© Andrey Popov |
Security & privacy

Text scams 101: How to spot smishing

There are many ways for criminals to scam you, and phishing emails are common. These emails often pretend to be from a government agency, utility company or mobile phone provider. IRS warning: Don’t fall for this tax scam text.

Since phishing emails have been around so long, many people are getting better at spotting them and knowing what to do. So criminals are turning their attention to text messages. These malicious texts work similarly to phishing emails but come straight to your phone.

Read on to see how criminals operate through text messages and what you can do to stay safe.

Here’s the backstory

Phishing emails are exactly what they sound like. Criminals throw a lure into your inbox and hope that you’ll take the bait. Unfortunately, they often do this on a massive scale, sending thousands of scam emails daily. Around 80% of all emails sent are considered spam.

But email scams aren’t the only method that criminals use. Thieves are turning their attention to sending scam text messages with a technique known as smishing.

Smishing stands for SMS phishing. It uses SMS (text) messages to trick unsuspecting victims into handing over personal information or even clicking on malicious links that will infect their devices with malware. Since many prefer text over email and phone calls, criminals are taking note and targeting our SMS inboxes.

Many of the spam text messages come from a spoofed number where the criminals make it seem as if it’s from a legitimate corporation or government agency.

The texts can appear to come from law enforcement, a government agency like the IRS or a mobile phone provider. The goal ultimate goal is to steal your information. Scammers achieve this through malicious links, unwanted and dangerous app downloads or redirects to fake websites.

As email spam filters get more sophisticated, criminals must look elsewhere to get their messages out. Text scamming was common in the early 2000s, but according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), it’s making a significant comeback.

How to avoid smishing scams

You might instinctively reach for your phone when you get a text message, but you must be careful about what you do next. There are several ways to stay safe, but the most critical aspect is never responding. Here are some more ways to avoid falling victim to smishing.

  • No government department or agency will make initial contact through a text message. In most cases, they send an official letter to your home.
  • Never click on a link in a text message if you don’t know the sender. If you have business with a company or government agency, ensure you visit the official website by navigating to the page in your browser instead of following a link.
  • When available, enable two-factor authentication. This is an extra step to protect your online accounts.
  • Some smishing scams use well-known retailers as a lure. If you didn’t buy anything from them, there is no reason why you should get a text. Ignore it and report the number as spam.
  • Always have a trusted antivirus program updated and running on all your devices. We recommend our sponsor, TotalAV. Get an annual plan with TotalAV for only $19 at That’s over 85% off the regular price!

If you get a spam text message, here’s how to report it:

  • Copy the message and forward it to 7726 (SPAM).
  • Report it on the messaging app you use. Just look for the option to report junk or spam.
  • Report it to the FTC at

Keep reading

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