Protect Yourself From SMiShing (SMS Text Phishing) Attacks

What Smishing is and how to protect yourself from these attacks

Phone texting artistic impression

 John Lamb / Getty Images

It seems as though, every time you turn around, someone has come up with a new way to part you from your money or steal your identity. Scammers are constantly posting rogue apps on Facebook, putting malware links in Tweets, and sending you phishing emails. Is no digital domain sacred anymore? The answer is no, and now they've moved on to text-based phishing on your cell phone in the form of "smishing." Smishing refers to phishing scams that are sent over Short Message Service (SMS) text messages. While you might feel you'd never fall for that, somebody must be, because scammers keep doing it.

Phishing Scams Play on Fear 

Phone texting artistic impression
John Lamb / Getty Images

Most phishing scams take advantage of your fears, such as:

  • Someone stealing your money
  • Being accused of a crime that you did not commit
  • Someone doing harm to you or your family
  • Something embarrassing being revealed about you (whether it is true or not)

Fear is a powerful motivator for us humans. When it controls us, we may throw logic and reason out the window and end up falling for a scam, even though we think we're too informed to be duped by such a thing. Many successful phishing attacks likely go unreported because the victims don't want people to think they were gullible enough to get conned thus leaving the phishers free to go on with their dirty work.

Phishers refine their scams over time, learning which ones work and which don't. Given the short nature of SMS messages, phishers have a very limited canvas on which to work, so they have to be extra-creative in a smishing attack

Tips to Help You Spot SMiShing Scam Texts

Staying vigilant and aware of a few common smishing techniques can go a long way in keeping yourself safe.

  • Vet texts from your bank: Many banks don't send text messages because they don't want people to fall for smishing attacks. If they do send texts, find out what number they use to generate them so you will know if they are legitimate. Scammers can use spoofed alias numbers that look like they are from your bank, so you should still be skeptical and not reply directly. Contact your bank at their regular customer service number to see if the text was legit or not. If it is really your bank texting you, then they should know exactly what you are talking about when you call them using the phone number on your latest statement. If they say there are no issues with your account, then the text was obviously bogus.
  • Be suspicious of strange-looking numbers: Email-to-text services often list "5000" or other strange numbers that are not cell numbers. Scammers are likely to mask their identities by using email-to-text services so that their actual phone numbers are not revealed.
  • Report threats: If you receive a text message that is threatening in any way to you or your family members, report it to the local authorities and to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

Preventing Smishing Texts From Reaching You

Here are some steps you can take to keep the "smishers" at bay.

  • Use your cell provider's text alias feature: Almost all major cell providers allow you to set up a text alias that you can use to receive texts. The texts still come to your phone and you can send texts, but anyone you text sees your alias instead of your actual number. You can then block incoming texts from your real number and give all your friends and family the alias you are using. Since scammers most likely won't guess your alias and can't look it up in a phone book, using an alias should cut down on the number of spam and smishing texts you receive.
  • Enable the "block texts from the internet" feature if available: Most spammers and smishers send texts via an internet text relay service, which helps hide their identities and doesn't count against their text allowances (scammers are notoriously frugal). Many cell providers will let you turn on a feature that will block texts that come in from the internet.