ID thieves use 'smishing,' or phony texts

March 24, 2011 2:09:54 PM PDT
Scammers are keeping pace with technology with the latest form of identity theft-- smishing, which sends a text message to cell phones to try to steal credit card or identity information.

"These phony text messages received on your cell phone are the equivalent of phony computer e-mail message scams called phishing," said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois in a statement. Bernas appeared on ABC7 News This Morning.

He said the phony text messages link to websites that may appear legitimate, but are "look-alike" sites created by identity thieves. Bernas said, "In most cases recipients are lured to the phony sites by being told they need to 'update' or 'verify' their billing information, credit card number, bank account information, password and other sensitive information."

Bernas explained that because text messages are not typically blocked and only contain text, it's easier for scammers to make smishing messages appear legitimate. "As consumers utilize their cell phones more and more to access the Internet, they need to guard against scams as they would on their home or office computers," he said.

One smishing technique is to send a text message as confirmation that the recipient will be receiving a product or service unless the individual cancels the order. A phony Web site address is also provided in order to cancel this charge. While the order and charges never existed, consumers who fall victim to this scam provide scammers with their credit card information to cancel the fictitious orders. Those credit card numbers then are in the hands of scammers.

Smishing messages may also direct recipients to call a phony toll-free number in order to complete or cancel some financial transaction where a fake operator will take down your financial information over the phone.

    The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips if you receive a questionable text message:

  • Most financial institutions, utility, or other business will not communicate with you via text message. If you do not recognize the Web site or phone number being sent to you, don't call it.

  • If you get a text message that warns you, with little to no notice, that an account of yours will be shut down unless you reconfirm your billing information, or that you will have an upcoming charge, do not reply or click on the link in the text message. Instead, contact the company referenced in the text message using a telephone number or Web site address you know to be genuine (because it appears on a billing statement, for instance).

  • Avoid e-mailing and texting personal and financial information. If you have determined the Web site to be legitimate and do decide to submit financial information, look for the "lock" icon on the browser's status bar. It signals that your information is secure during transmission.

  • Review your credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.

  • Check out the URL or phone number of a company before you disclose any personal or financial information for FREE at

For more information on smishing and other scams targeting consumers, visit the BBB online at

Information provided by the Better Business Burea.

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