Spam Text Messages and How to Stop Them
Table of Contents
- The Danger of Spam Messages
- Recognizing a Spam Text
- Protecting Yourself and Preventing Spam Texts
- Avoid Responding
- Use Providers with Call Blocking Protection
- Prevent Legitimate Spam with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- How to Tell if Your Phone is Hacked
- By Bryan Lee
- Sep 29, 2022
Rewind to the early 2000s when it required real people to annoy us with cold calls and scams. We treated these interactions as infrequent nuisances and rarely did anything to stop them.
Nowadays, the process is so automated and targeted that some people get dozens of spam texts each week. Victims unfamiliar with the scam will unwittingly regard these messages as desperate marketing rather than legitimate threats.
This mindset is what allows crafty scammers the chance to steal your identity.
The Danger of Spam Messages
It's not regularly thought about, but a cell phone is a private device. Owners get to screen and choose whom they give their number. At least, this is how it used to work.
This screening process has become nearly nonexistent, with social media letting users post contact information on their profiles. Not to mention the countless websites that ask for phone numbers to add to their marketing lists. Society's increased willingness to advertise phone numbers makes getting a target's phone number almost trivial.
It's true that simply receiving spam is relatively harmless. The only worry is that a malicious source can pass the number along to other scammers. The primary problem comes with the link or attachment sent with these texts.
It may seem easy to avoid clicking a link, but it only takes a momentary lapse of judgment to become a victim. Maybe your finger slips and brushes the link, or you don't recognize the text as suspicious. Perhaps you get greedy for a 'free offer' from a favorite retailer.
Interacting with spam messages can lead to identity theft. Any personal information and login credentials stored on the phone can be at risk. Bank of America alone has 30 million active users for its mobile banking application. This creates a high-return situation for scammers who can successfully invade people's phones.
Keeping an inbox free of these predatory messages is the only foolproof defense and is vital to maintaining online security. So, here's how to recognize and prevent unwanted texts.
Recognizing a Spam Text
Unless a scammer takes control of an acquaintance's number, a spam text will always come from an unknown number. Aside from that, several warning signs make messages more suspicious.
The most obvious trait of a spam message is a link. Make it a habit to NEVER click a link from an unverified source. Clicking through suspicious links can automatically download malware that steals information and damages the device.
The second sign requires a little more awareness to recognize. Spam messages must be universally tempting to click on because of how many people are on a scammer's target list. This often means the content won't be tailored for each target and comes off as random.
Some standard templates for spam texts include:
The Lucky Winner
This template uses excitement to get the target to click a link. The content will promise some form of item or gift card for clicking through the link. These are easy to spot since the target typically hasn't participated in any promotions or contests.
The Limited-Time Offer
People are more likely to take action to avoid a loss than generate a gain. This is known as loss aversion. Scammers leverage this phenomenon to trick their targets by including an arbitrary response deadline.
Remember that this 'deal' won't be exclusive to the text message. Taking the time to visit the company's official website will protect your phone and still save you that sweet 25 percent.
The Overdue Balance
Money is scary, especially for people who don't have much of it. The idea of losing more money to overdraft and interest fees makes people panic and make poor choices like clicking on suspicious links that they would generally avoid. This scam template typically impersonates an authority figure like banks or hospitals to raise its credibility.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a helpful guide to differentiating debt collectors from scam artists.
Protecting Yourself and Preventing Spam Texts
A big part of stopping spam texts is consistency. A target can paint itself as a suboptimal target by following a few rules. However, scammers are nothing if not persistent. If you want to get away from scam texts, you'll need to put in a little effort.
There's an enormous number of 'dead' phone numbers circulating around. These numbers populate scammer's target lists and waste their resources. Consistently ignoring spam texts can make a target appear as a dead number and cause a scammer to lose interest.
In some cases, it's helpful to turn off the message application's "read" notifications as those can alert programs that a number is active.
Use Providers with Call Blocking Protection
The biggest service providers usually have robocall protection available for their users. Verizon has Call Filter, which screens incoming calls and automatically filters out spam. In upgraded versions, this service even caller IDs the unknown number for you.
However, some call protection services don't work on both Android and iPhone. It's best to check ahead of time that your phone is compatible with their service.
Prevent Legitimate Spam with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC has a "Do Not Call Registry," which prevents most telemarketing operations from cold messaging a number. While this is useful for avoiding legitimate nuisances, it won't do much to stop criminals.
How to Tell if Your Phone is Hacked
Preventative tips aren't much use for people whose phones are already compromised. In these cases, acting quickly and preventing more information from leaking is essential. However, malicious programs often fly under the radar, and victims won't notice them until it's already too late.
A tell-tale trait of a hacked phone is an overall performance drop. This is due to the power needed to run the malware downloaded through the spam text. This extra power drain will inevitably cause problems in any phone. Examples include:
- Running slow
- High temperature
- Decreased battery life
While all of these can have other explanations, if your phone experiences a sudden drop in performance, then make sure to check the background processes with a fine-tooth comb.