You may be accustomed to annoying scam phone calls and emails, but are you now receiving scam text messages? Although text scams aren’t as prevalent as phone and email scams, consumers are increasingly on the receiving end of these unwanted texts.
What is a text scam?
Text scams are text messages designed to trick you into giving money or sharing personal information that can be used to steal your money or identity.
Scam types will vary, but the more popular text scams attempt to rope you in with offers that are too good to be true (such as free prizes or money from a well-known retailer); attempt to spur you into action by pretending to be a friend or family member in need; or dangle fake information about a transaction or account (like a package delivery).
Five signs of a text scam with examples
If you’ve received a suspicious text, how can you tell if it’s a text scam? First, take a pause before you do anything. It’s important that you understand how to identify a text scam from a legitimate text message before you reply or click on any link.
Use these five clues to tell if an iffy message is a text scam but note that these signs won’t apply to all scam text messages.
1. The message is irrelevant to you
One way to identify a text scam is that the message is unprompted, random or unrelated to any activity you’ve had with the business or individual. Common scam text messages will say you’ve won a contest, a prize or free money. And an increasingly popular text scam will say there’s a delivery issue with a package.
But did you recently enter a contest? Do you have a package in transit? If your answer is no, it’s likely a scam. If your answer is yes, chances are a reputable business will notify you via email or publicly via social media about your prize.
As for package delivery, do a quick search online to verify the sender’s phone number. Businesses may also use shortened phone numbers called short codes to send package delivery updates to customers. Amazon, for example, uses the short code 262966 to share shipment tracking updates.
2. The message’s tone is urgent or requests your immediate action
Another sign of a text scam is that the message is pushing you to act now. These types of text scams are effective at tricking us because they play on our emotions. The sender may pretend to be your bank or a government agency. Or they may claim to be someone you know in need of your help to get out of a crisis.
A good way to assess if a bank text is legitimate is to learn what kind of text messages your bank sends out. Bank of America, for example, will send texts from short code numbers for alerts but will never ask customers for personal or financial information in a text message.
Government text scams
As for government text messages, it’s likely they wouldn’t reach out to you first over text. For example, the IRS explicitly states on their website that they do not “initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.”
Someone in a crisis
Text messages from friends and family can be distressing when they’re asking for immediate help. A sign of a text scam is when the sender says they’re someone you know, but their phone number doesn’t show up as saved on your phone. They may request that you wire money to them right away because of an emergency; they may ask that you purchase gift cards for them; or they may ask for your personal information.
No matter how urgent the message appears, hold off from reacting right away, especially if they’re asking for money. If you’re unsure that the sender is who they claim to be, the FTC recommends verifying their identity by asking questions that only the person would know or by calling another friend or family member that can verify the sender’s story.
3. The text message contains misspellings or poor grammar
This may not always be the case, but clear indications of a text scam are awkwardly structured sentences, cut-off sentences, misspellings, improper grammar or strange use of language. Legitimate text messages from a business tend to use natural language, proper punctuation and will likely be free of misspellings and grammatical errors.
4. The text message is coming from a lengthy phone number or sketchy email address
A clear sign of a text scam is by checking the sender’s contact information. If it’s a lengthy, random email address or the phone number is much longer than your average 10-digit phone number or common five or six-digit phone number, it may be a text scam.
5. The text message contains a suspicious link
Scam text messages won’t always contain a link, but those that do may direct you to download malware or enter your credit card information or personal details.
It can be tricky to identify a text scam by the link itself. Legitimate businesses commonly use a URL shortener in their text messages to save on the allotted SMS character count and to track the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. A clue of a legitimate URL is by spotting the name of the URL shortening service in the URL itself, such as bit.ly or tinyurl.
While it’s not recommended to follow a URL from a suspicious text message, spotting a sketchy link may be easier if you’ve already tapped on it. You’ll be directed to your web browser where you’ll have an easier way of seeing if it’s a real website. A safe website will be verified, secured or locked; look for a lock symbol on the left side of the URL in the address bar.
How to identify a text scam: Amazon text scam
An Amazon text scam (or Amazon Rewards text scam) has been circulating among consumers, and I recently received one. This one is easy to spot due to the following signs:
- The sender’s phone number doesn’t match Amazon’s short code for package delivery, which is 262966.
- The message is urgent, using “FINAL ALERT” in all caps.
- I hadn’t recently ordered anything from Amazon.
- The language is odd. The word “bounty” isn’t traditionally used with package deliveries.
- The link contains .info, which tends to be common with scam text message links.
Read through this page for more tips on how to identify an illegitimate Amazon text.
How to report text scams
If you’ve received a text scam, you should report it. There are a few ways to do this:
- Copy the message and text it to 7726 (SPAM). Long press the message and the option to copy it will pop up. Then create a new message and paste.
- Notify the business or brand the text scam is impersonating. Major businesses will have a web page that provides instructions on how to report a text scam, like this page from FedEx.
- Report the text scam to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC is the government agency that “protects consumers and competition by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices through law enforcement, advocacy, and education without unduly burdening legitimate business activity.”
Learn more about unwanted text messages, including spam, by visiting the following resources: