• It’s the latest high-tech attack and it’s coming to cell phones everywhere. Here’s the lowdown on smishing and what you can do about it

  • Never reply to a suspicious text without doing research and verifying the source.

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Just when you thought you understood “Phishing” and felt save to navigate the world wide web again, there is “Smishing”. So, what is Smishing?

Short for SMS Phishing, smishing is a variant of phishing email scams that instead utilizes Short Message Service (SMS) systems to send bogus text messages. Also written as SMiShing, SMS phishing made recent headlines when a vulnerability in the iPhone’s SMS text messaging system was discovered that made smishing on the mobile device possible.

Smishing scams frequently seek to direct the text message recipient to visit a website or call a phone number, at which point the person being scammed is enticed to provide sensitive information such as credit card details or passwords. Smishing websites are also known to attempt to infect the person’s computer with malware.

SMS phishing uses cell phone text messages to deliver the bait to induce people to divulge their personal information. The hook (the method used to actually capture people’s information) in the text message may be a website URL, but it has become more common to see a telephone number that connects to an automated voice response system.

phishing-hookThe SMS phishing message usually contains something that demands the target’s immediate attention. Examples include “We confirm that you have signed up for our subscription. You will be charged $2 a day unless you cancel your order on this URL: [URL]”. Or (Name of popular online bank) confirms that you have purchased a computer from (name of popular computer company). Visit [URL] if you did not make this online purchase”, and “(Name of a financial institution): Your account has been suspended. Call 235.654.6969 immediately to reactivate”. The hook will be a seemingly legitimate website that asks you to “confirm” (enter) your personal financial information, such as your credit/debit card number, CVV code (on the back of your credit card), your ATM card PIN, SSN, email address, and other personal information. If the hook is a phone number, it normally directs to a legitimate-sounding automated voice response system, similar to the voice response systems used by many financial institutions, which will ask for the same personal information.

This is an example of a (complete) SMS phishing message in current circulation: “Notice – this is an automated message from (a local credit union), your ATM card has been suspended. To reactivate call urgent [sic] at 866-###-####.”

In many cases, the SMS phishing message will not show an actual telephone number and some unusual number. This usually indicates the SMS message was sent by email to the cell phone rather than from another cell phone. This information is then used to create duplicate credit/debit/ATM cards. There are documented cases where information entered on a fraudulent website (used in a phishing, SMS phishing, or voice phishing attack) was used to create a credit or debit card that was then used halfway around the world within 30 minutes.

Avoid the Dangers of “Smishing”: How to Protect Yourself
If you get a text that’s unsolicited or from an unidentifiable source, protect yourself with these tips:

  • If the message appears to be from a legitimate source, contact that source’s main phone number—not the number provided in the text—and verify. Legitimate businesses, such as banks, do not send out texts that elicit a response.
  • Delete messages from unknown sources without reading.
  • Do not click on links or download apps from an unverified source.
  • Never provide sensitive information to an unverified texter.
  • Avoid messages that appear to come from non telephone numbers. This may be an identity that hides a scammer’s real number. The message may have no number at all.
  • Add security software to your mobile phone.
  • Look into setting up a “text alias.” This cell phone feature hides your actual phone number from the smishing sender.
  • Contact your phone provider and alert it to the messages you’ve been receiving.