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Gephardt: Scam Texts Are On The Rise – Here’s What You Can Do

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – If it feels like your phone is just getting flooded with tons of annoying texts, you are not alone. Countless Utahns are getting scam, spam and phishing texts daily.

Anecdotally, we have heard from many people who say they will not answer unknown calls because of the robocall onslaught. Does that mean the scammers have switched to text messages to reach us?

From promises of cash, earbuds from Amazon, job opportunities and out-of-the-blue shipment notices, Alex Quilici is one of those who have noticed the uptick in scammy, or at least spammy, text messages.

“We are seeing an increase in scam text messages,” said Quilici, CEO of YouMail, a robocall blocking service. While their focus is robocalls, Quilici is hearing from customers who want to know how they can block unwanted texts.

“We’re hearing that text messages are increasing fairly quickly,” Quilici elaborated. “And I know that on my own phone I’m starting to see them too. So they’re around and increasing.”

In fact, cybersecurity experts have reported more than a 300% increase in the number of text message scams since last summer.

“The whole point of a robocall is to get someone to press one or to call you back. If you don’t have a call center someone to answer the phone when they do that, the robocall is pointless,” said Quilici. “And so that’s why we saw a lot fewer robocalls during the pandemic and they’re ramping right back up.”

Quilici attributed the sudden spike to scammers getting back to the office. Many of them worked in call centers, which were also shut down during the pandemic.

Now, with our cell phone carriers warning us that an incoming call is likely spam, it seems the crooks are evolving to more bogus texts.

“People stopped answering their phones and so it becomes much harder for a robocaller to get through. If a consumer is running a robocall blocking app like YouMail and they’re not answering any other call that gets through, how do I get through to that consumer?” said Quilici. “We’ve sort of defending the voice channel which is forcing them to go elsewhere. I suspect they’re finding that text messages are a way to get through.”

Quilici said blocking bogus texts is harder than blocking robocalls at the moment, so the best defense, for now, is to assume every text you get from a sender you don’t recognize, “might” be from someone trying to rip you off.

One widespread scam hitting phones now is an Amazon delivery notification that asks you to confirm your ID by clicking on the link so you can receive your package. In fact, the Better Business Bureau this past week alerted consumers to another Amazon ruse that provides consumers with a link to claim a pair of EarPods they have just won in a raffle. In both cases, clicking the provided link will take you to a phishing site.

In a similar scam, fraudsters also send out texts claiming to be from USPS, FedEx or UPS that contain an urgent update asking consumers to verify their identities by clicking a link in the text.

Scammers are also pretending to be from Netflix, warning you of a payment issue with your card and so you need to click a link that will take you to a phished Netflix website where you will enter your real account credentials — including payment card and password, which then gets stolen.

What can you do about it? One option is to change your phone settings so it only accepts texts from numbers you know.

“It varies by handset OS,” said Quilici. “For example, on iPhone, it is possible to programmatically give the device a list of numbers to block, and it will block them.  We actually have an option in our (YouMail) app to do just this. On Android, you can create a messaging app that filters out unwanted texts, but it has to become the texting app the users use. So, it’s a bit trickier.”

There are also some apps you can pay for that claim to filter out robotexts. Lastly, you can help stop unwanted texts by becoming a tattletale. Cell phone carriers as well as the FTC have ways you can report bogus texts and get the numbers shut down.

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