Scam text messages: Why you get so many dodgy SMS and what to do about it

Most Aussies are grappling with an inundation of dodgy scam text messages trying to fleece them of cash. Here’s why, and what you can do.

Some scam text messages are so dodgy they’re easy to spot, with amusing typos or clearly fake websites not fooling too many recipients.

But others can catch even the most security savvy Australians off guard by carefully mimicking legitimate communication, such as from a postal service to track a package you’re expecting.

Many even appear to come from real sources, masked as being sent by a company or brand name.

Whether clever or crude, if you feel like you’re being bombarded with an almost relentless barrage of spam or scam messages … you’re right.

These types of dodgy texts aren’t new, but they’re becoming more and more common, with significant growth over the past year.

The Australian Government’s ScamWatch agency reported yearly losses have almost doubled to $5.8 million as of August, while the number of complaints has also risen to 39,500 in the past 12 months.

And there are two good reasons you’re getting more and more of them.

“Email remains the cheapest method to distribute scams but most email services now provide efficient spam filters to block them,” Associate Professor Ismini Vasileiou from the UK’s De Montfort University and Paul Haskell-Dowland, a computing and security expert at Edith Cowan University, wrote for The Conversation.

“When it comes to SMS messages, however, our smartphones don’t afford the same level of protection.

“While telecommunication providers are enhancing their SMS scam and spam detection capabilities, this issue so far hasn’t received the same attention as email scam.”

It’s only recently that spam texts have become a big problem, causing direct and “highly visible” financial consequences for victims, and so the industry is playing catch-up, they wrote.

The second and most concerning reason for the rise in instances of text scamming is that they appear to be quite effective.

ScamWatch has reported an escalation in the ‘cost per incident’ rate in Australia – that is, how much people are losing compared to the number of complaints received.

This indicates a “significant shift in the impact of these scams”, P:Prof Vasileiou and Prof Haskell-Dowland said.

Of course, the risk isn’t just financial, with some scam texts seeking to infect phones with malicious software that then hands over control and the power to snoop.

If you’re receiving a lot of these types of messages, it can feel overwhelming and frustrating – and a little hopeless.

And unfortunately, there’s no simple way to stop getting them – or at the very least reduce how many you receive.

But there are things you can do to protect yourself.

For one, be educated about current scams and the tactics employed by criminals by staying across the ScamWatch website.

Secondly, employ a high level of scepticism about the texts you receive from organisations and numbers you aren’t familiar with.

“Legitimate organisations and agencies will rarely – if ever – use overly casual, hostile or threatening language in an SMS,” Prof Vasileiou and Prof Haskell-Dowland said.

“If you ever receive a suspicious SMS message, don’t reply or click on any attached links. If the message purports to come from an official organisation, always contact the organisation directly (and) never trust any contact details included in the message.

“If your phone supports the option, block the number — and consider reporting it to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.”

If you’ve been compromised, contact ScamWatch to discuss your concerns and what you should do next.

If your bank details have potentially been obtained, contact your financial institution immediately to protect your accounts, block dodgy transactions and change your PIN.

“If you have disclosed your password, you must change it immediately across all sites and services the password is used for. And if the issue is affecting a work-related device, contact your IT department to check whether your device has been compromised,” Prof Vasileiou and Prof Haskell-Dowland said.

“Finally, always ensure your mobile devices are kept up-to-date with patches and software upgrades.

“While this might not stop the SMS messages, you will benefit from system updates designed to protect you.”

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Author: Shirley