The number of phony spam/scam text messages being sent to mobile phones has exploded, with scammers texting ever-more complex cons that seek to separate you from your money.
Robokiller, a company that makes a mobile app to block spam calls and texts, says that in 2021, spam text messages surpassed spam calls by more than 15 billion, marking the second consecutive year potential scammers relied on texts more than calls to reach Americans.
In March alone, the number of spam text messages sent to Americans reached 11 billion, according to Robokiller.
In 2021, Americans received 87.8 billion spam text messages, according to Robokiller. That was an annual increase of 58%.
It also amounts to 263 spam texts a year for every man, woman and child in the entire country.
RoboKiller estimates consumers lost about $10 billion to scam text messages in 2021.
“What I tell people when there is an uptick in a scam is something is working, for the scammers,” said Lisa Schiller, director of investigations and communication for the Better Business Bureau in Wisconsin. “That’s why a lot of scams don’t go away and it’s alarming.”
Scams may show up from your own number
One of the latest cellphone scams is users receiving text messages from their own phone number or wireless provider.
Users on Reddit and Twitter began reporting this at the end of March, saying their carrier — often Verizon — would send a message referencing the user’s wireless bill and include a link to a “free gift.”
The Verge published a story, prompting Verizon to issue a statement to the technology news website.
Verizon blamed “bad actors” for thousands of spam text messages received by its customers and said it was working with federal law enforcement to try to identify the source.
Robokiller said it tracked more than 5,000 same-number spam text messages during the last week of March.
Even children are receiving spam, scam texts
A Milwaukee mother was recently shocked to find an unsolicited text message sent to her son with a photo of a scantily clad woman asking him to be his friend.
The message said, “Hi I’m lookin for a new buddy & a good time 2nite. Think ya could help me out?” according to the mom, who didn’t want to be identified but shared the information on the Milwaukee Better Business Bureau’s scam tracker website.
The mom texted the “woman” back that she contacted the BBB and local police. The next message read: “I’m just sorta lonely 2nite.”
Messages like this, a version of the “innocent wrong number” scam is the latest text scam being used across Wisconsin to lure victims into a conversation, Schiller said.
In the past week, the BBB has gotten about a dozen complaints, Schiller said.
With this scam, people are asked to click on a link. Once they do, they’re usually rerouted to an adult website. Sometimes scammers want personal information. Or money.
Sometimes, the scammers just want to know they have connected to a live phone number that can be sold to other scammers, Schiller said.
Cristina Carpentier of Madison on Monday received a similar text message as the mother in Milwaukee — a half-naked woman wanting to “chat.”
Carpentier texted back telling the person they had the wrong number. She blocked the phone number, but Carpentier said the texts continued.
“I got fed up and sent a screenshot back saying ‘if you don’t stop texting me I’ll call the police,'” Carpentier said. “After that, they stopped, but I wondered if I was being scammed.”
Tips to deal with potential scams
The BBB has a number of ways to spot phony text messages. The list includes suspicious links, spelling and grammatical errors and messages that just don’t feel right.
If you have compromised your personal information, you can report the incident to law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission. If you’ve been the victim of a text message scam, report it at BBB.org/ScamTracker.
- “If you receive a phone call, hang up immediately,” Schiller said.
- block numbers from scammers to prevent them from trying to contact you again
- never click on links in a text message.
- Never share your credit card or banking information
- Never share your full name, home address or Social Security number with someone you never met in person.
- Remember that any photo you upload on social media can be stolen and used by a scammer.
Corrinne Hess can be reached at [email protected] Follow her @corrihess