Ken Paxton
Consumer Protection

Beware of Text Message Spam: "Smishing"

Texas cell phone users should beware of an emerging, high-tech threat that has been dubbed: “smishing.” To trick more people into revealing personal information, financial account numbers, and passwords, spammers have begun sending fraudulent cell phone text messages.

As many computer users know, spam e-mail messages, known as “phishing,” frequently arrive in e-mail inboxes. Many computer users have learned to identify and delete fraudulent e-mails that falsely appear to originate from legitimate banks, credit card companies and government agencies. Internet service providers and spam filters often block these messages so they never reach their intended targets.

Effective spam filters have not yet been developed for cell phone text messages. Very few text messages are blocked by filters or cell phone providers. While misspelled e-mail messages and broken address links make it simpler to judge a spam e-mail, determining whether a text message is legitimate may be difficult. There are no images – only text – and the message is usually short.

For example, smishing messages may threaten the recipient about an impending charge that can be cancelled only if the user visits a phony Web site displayed in the message. Another common scam directs the recipient to call a toll-free number to complete or cancel a financial transaction. An “operator” at the number will helpfully take the caller’s credit card or debit account number – and use that information to defraud the caller if they are part of a scam.

Smishing recipients should not respond to the sender. In fact, they should not call any telephone numbers provided in the text message – nor should they click on any Web links. Activating Web links that appear in unexpected text messages may direct users to fraudulent Web sites or allow identity thieves to capture users’ sensitive personal information. Legitimate financial institutions do not call or e-mail customers seeking this information. Customers who are concerned about a purportedly pending charge should contact the service provider or bank directly and inquire about it.

Spammers responsible for fraudulent smishing messages, calls and e-mails are attempting to obtain customers’ personal identifying information. Texans should delete the unexpected text message or e-mail and hang up the telephone.

ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.

Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.