Scammers are expanding beyond robocalls and emails to steal sensitive information and money by increasingly turning to the most used mode of consumer communication today — texting.
While robocalls remain a bigger portion of complaints to federal agencies, unsolicited texts messages are a growing threat to consumers’ wallets.
“We have so much of our personal information out there on the internet, that you cannot trust anything that comes to you that way,” said John North, president and CEO of the Dayton Better Business Bureau. “I would not click on any links if you don’t know who they are from. If you see something that comes in that you think might be legitimate, a company that you work with, go and do an internet search.”
Many scammers feed off emotions and popular media trends, aiming to persuade consumers to provide financial details or click links related to weights loss, loan payoff or credit improvements that will download malware on a phone.
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Last year, the Federal Trade Commission received 93,331 complaints about unsolicited, potentially fraudulant, misleading or deceptive texts, a spokesman told the Dayton Daily News. That’s a 30 percent increase from the 71,777 in 2017.
During the first six months of 2019, there have been 44,422 complaints to the FTC, which has the largest consumer complaint database in the country.
Complaints appear to pick up near the end of the year. FTC had more than double the complaints in the fourth quarter of 2018 than the first. A Federal Communications Commission spokesperson also said that organization receives more complaints in October and November than any other months.
Scams are often underreported just because more people are impacted than will file a complaint, several experts said. But texting scams can be specifically underreported because they’re easier to ignore and therefore less annoying than robocalls.
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“We see it continuing to be an issue even with the FCC’s recent actions,” North said. “Most of these originated from outside of the U.S. and so it doesn’t make it impossible for the FCC to enact their rules, but it definitely does make it much more difficult.”
The FCC earlier this month adopted new rules to include text messaging under its prohibition of transmitting misleading or innacurate caller ID information, closing a loophole that kept the organization from pursuing the spoofing scammers that use texts.
“We have clarified that phone companies can continue to proactively block spam text messages and we expect them to do so. To date, this blocking has helped reduce spam in text messaging. That said, scammers are creative, technologically savvy, and highly motivated to try to defraud consumers,” an FCC spokesman told the Dayton Daily News.
T-Mobile blocked a record average of 1 million spam texts a day in July and Verizon is blocking almost 500 million spam messages a month, double the volume from last year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Twelve mobile carriers are also working with state attorneys general to adopt anti-robocall practices that are expected to help protect consumers and make it easier for state attorneys general to investigate and prosecute fraudsters.
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“This agreement brings phone service providers on board as critical allies in our fight against illegal robocalls,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said. “By adopting these commonsense business practices, service providers will reinforce our ongoing efforts to crack down on this growing nuisance.”
The carriers will implement call-blocking technology at no cost to the consumer, add technology to verify calls are coming from a valid source, monitor robocall traffic and give customers free call blocking and labeling tools.
“The focus of Thursday’s announcement was combatting illegal robocalls, but that is not to say that robotext messages are not an issue. We recognize the annoyance and risk of harm that they present to consumers,” said Dominic Binkley, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. “We are looking at robotexts as well as we continue to address the various technological issues plaguing our communities. We are hopeful that some of the strategies for combatting robocalls can also be applied to address robotexting.”
What to do if you receive a robotext
1. Don’t reply. Replying STOP only verifies that your phone number is valid. Replying stop only works if the sender is legitimate and likely won’t be honored by non-legitimate sources.
2. Tell your carrier
3. Forward the text to SPAM 7726, which reports it to the carrier to better inform text blocking
4. Report the text as spam on your device
5. Block the spam number
6. File a complaint at www.consumercomplaints.fcc.gov and ftc.gov/complaint
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