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How to Spot Text Message Scams

Aug 11, 2022
anxious older woman distressed with unexpected negative text on cellphone

 The FTC is passing new laws to curtail scam text messages, but the onslaught continues!

I want to take a moment to provide some rules of thumb when dealing with incoming text messages. Along with a bit of background detail on the numbers from which these texts come, and some resources to do your own digging, these rules of thumb can help you to make smart decisions that help you to avoid scams and fraud.  

These rules will help you in winning the game of whack-a-mole when it comes to scam text messages!

But first a definition for you: What is spoofing?

Spoofing is when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity.  Scammers often use neighbor spoofing so it appears that an incoming call is coming from a local number, or spoof a number from a company or a government agency that you may already know and trust. If you answer, they use scam scripts to try to steal your money or valuable personal information, which can be used in fraudulent activity. 

One additional note before we get into the rules.  

As I teach in the Fellow Fox course, remember, NEVER click links in text messages.

Now on to the Text Message Rules of Thumb: How to spot and avoid scam messages 

Keep in mind that none of these are absolutely bullet proof. You still need to be vigilant when making decisions. These rules provide a great starting point to help you on your perpetual journey of scammer whack-a-mole.

Text messages from short codes

You may have seen or heard an advertisement saying text this message to 22222.

This is an example of a short code. Here are two examples.

 

Short codes are used by companies for all sorts of reasons from sending you two-factor authentication codes from your bank, to updating you on your car rental. The thing about short codes is, they cannot be spoofed and they are not anonymous. Companies have to go through a registration process to get one and they are not cheap.

RULE OF THUMB: Text messages from short codes can generally be trusted.   

Still use your discretion. When you get a message from a short code, use this short code directory website to look up what company it is.

(Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with the site above)

*I will update you the minute I hear of scammers using short codes*

Text Messages from "800" Toll Free Numbers

The current official list of Toll Free 800 prefixes is 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, and 833.

These numbers also function differently than normal phone number caller ID and therefore are very difficult to spoof. 

Here in an example of a legitimate text message from an 800 number.




Texts that come from 800 toll free numbers are generally from legitimate businesses.  

Be careful though as there are many area codes that begin with 8.  

RULE OF THUMB: If you get a text message from an 800 number, Google the number to make sure it is coming from a company you want to interact with. 

Legitimate companies are required to include an "OPT OUT" function in their message as well so if you no longer want messages from the 800 number which messaged you, OPT OUT using the reply they tell you to at the end of the message.

Text messages from numbers you don't know

This one is easy.  

RULE OF THUMB: Do NOT interact with text messages from numbers you do not know. 

Here are several examples of scam messages I have received in the past year.

Text Messages from numbers you do know

As always, do NOT click links in text messages. 

When you get a text from a number you do know, try to be aware if something seems off or strange about the message content. It is super easy to spoof a text message and make it look like it is coming from a number you know.

You can try spoofing a text message yourself here

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for any prank messages you send to your friends nor am I affiliated with the site. Please be responsible.

RULE OF THUMB: If you get a message from a number you know or have saved in your phone, and something seems strange, call the person who supposedly sent it to confirm they did. Look at it as a chance to re-connect with your friends and loved ones.

That is all for now. As always if you have questions on any of this, post a message in the Fellow Fox Community or in the comment section below!

Stay safe and stay vigilant,

Partha