Have you ever received a random text message with a link in it? If the sender is unknown, money expert Clark Howard says no matter what, don’t click on the link!
Spammers have ramped up their efforts to pry you from your money — and it’s happening right from your phone.
According to one report, scam and spam texts have defrauded Americans out of $13 billion so far in 2023. Clark says scammers are increasingly using texts as a way to commit crimes.
In this article, we’ll tell you what to do if you receive a random text message on your phone and how you can protect yourself from text message scams.
Quick Links: Received a Random Text? Read This
- How To Vet a Random Text Message
- How To Block a Random Number
- Common Text Message Scams To Avoid
- How Clark Handles Random Text Messages
Clark says scammers oftentimes have one objective when they send you a random text.
“They’re trying to get to your personal information. And it depends on how trusting you are, how many of their questions you answer, until you’ve given up information that can be used against you or to steal money from you.”
How To Vet a Random Text Message
Although they’ve been scarce as of late, I still receive scam text messages every now and then. Here’s how I was able to vet the following text message I got out of the blue.
I quickly identified the phone number as a scammer. How did I find out? I looked the number up online.
Google the Phone Number
When I Googled the phone number of the sender, I found out that the same phone number had been reported as a scammer. And following Clark’s advice, I made sure not to click the link!
Confirm the Sender’s Identity (If You Can)
Because the text message was a classic example of “smishing,” which is a common scam in which the crook uses the name of a reputable entity in hopes that you’ll click the link, I was able to quickly compare it to the authentic company.
What I found out is that the number is not associated with the Georgia Department of Driver Services, which warns of text scams on its website.
To stop this particular scam text, I blocked the number.
How To Block a Random Number
For iPhone: If you have an iPhone you can block a number by going into Settings > Phones > Silence Unknown Callers.
For Android phones: If you have an Android device, Google says you can block a number by following these simple steps:
- Open your Phone app.
- Tap More. Call history.
- Tap a call from the number you want to block.
- Tap Block / report spam.
Because criminals are constantly coming up with new scams, it has become increasingly difficult to stop scam texts, but you can reduce the number of suspicious text messages you get by forwarding them to 7726 (SPAM). Not only will this block the number from your phone, but it will blacklist it with your cell phone service provider.
But when you get a random text message that seems suspicious, how can you know for sure? What should you look out for?
Let’s go over some common kinds of scam texts and get advice from Clark and consumer advocacy agencies on how to avoid becoming a victim.
Common Text Message Scams To Avoid
Let’s look at some common scam texts you should be aware of:
From Your Own Number
One of the more recent twists is when you receive a text message from your own phone number.
“Here’s how it works,” Clark says. “You get a text from yourself, and you’re like, ‘Wow! What’s going on here?’ And like a fish with the hook in the mouth, you click on it and then you download a virus to your phone that allows criminals to engage in all kinds of mischief.”
Crooks have reportedly sent fake flight cancellation notices to unsuspecting passengers. The text message may include a phone number to call.
According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), “When you call the number provided, the ‘airline’ offers to book you a new ticket — for a price. However, if you follow up with real airline support, you’ll discover that nothing was wrong with your original flight. The message was a scam, and you just gave your credit card details to a con artist.”
Many banks offer the option to get alerts sent to your phone about your account balance or recent deposits. But if you get a text with a link from your bank asking for personal information or informing you of a problem with your account, assume it’s a scam.
According to the BBB, “Scammers will use the opportunity to obtain your banking information. For example, a website may prompt for an ATM card number and PIN under the guise of ‘reactivating your ATM card.’ Other times, the link may download malicious software that gives scammers access to anything on the phone. A scammer on the phone may demand personal information such as your social security number.”
Scammers have also been known to send text messages pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
A scam text from the “IRS” could say any number of things: the agency needs to verify your identity, you owe money or your tax return has been rejected.
Here’s what the agency says on its website: “Taxpayers need to remember that the IRS will not contact them by text message or social media and ask for personal or financial information.”
Credit Card Company
Consumers are also getting tricked into providing personal information to thieves posing as credit card companies.
Criminals will typically text you a message asking you to verify your identity due to a data breach, suspicious activity on your account or perhaps fraudulent activity.
Retailer Macy’s says, “Whenever you’re asked for personal information by email, phone or text message, we recommend that you call back the general published number for whatever company you’re dealing with, or that you go to the official website. If you have any doubt regarding the legitimacy of an email DO NOT respond or click on any links.”
And here are details from Visa’s website on how to recognize a spam text: “There’s a link instead of a phone number to call. … The text you receive may not contain the name of the bank or any other information. The text requests that you log in to your bank account to verify a transaction, enter your PIN, or provide a 3-digit CVV code.”
How Clark Handles Random Text Messages
Clark says he never trusts a text message from an unknown sender.
“When you receive a text and you don’t know the sender or even if you do know the sender and there’s a link in there they want you to click on, I wouldn’t click on the link unless it’s somebody you absolutely know with certainty.”
But what if your utility, airline, bank or credit card company has sent you a text message that seems to be legitimate? Here’s Clark’s advice:
“Go outside of that message that has been sent: Go to your web browser on that phone or on a laptop. Go sign into your account or use the app on your phone, and you will see whether or not there is an issue or problem you need to address. Period.”
Read our guide for more details on how to spot and report scam text messages.