Spam sent via text message, or SMS, to mobile phones is on the rise. Spammers who sent online scams to your e-mail inbox are now exploiting the SMS feature on mobile phones, which are more direct and have weaker spam filters.

The Problem

Most text spam comes in the form of a bogus offer for payday loans, free ringtones, or an opportunity to test a coveted product such as the iPhone. Other text messages may appear as an alert that your credit score has changed, or that you won a free gift card. They will often ask you to “claim your prize” or “sign up to redeem the offer” by clicking on an enclosed link or replying via text.

From here, the text spam operates much like a traditional phishing scam―falsely claiming to be from an established legitimate enterprise in an attempt to trick you into surrendering personal and financial information that will be used for identity theft. The link may lead to a website where you're asked to confirm your name and e-mail address, but eventually, to enter more valuable information, such as your date of birth, mailing address, and/or credit card number. Responding to the text will likely trap you into a paid subscription service.

Text spammers may use 5- to 6-digit numeric short codes (e.g., 22331) or an e-mail address to deliver their messages.

Best Practices for All Mobile Phone Users

Your options to protect against unwanted texts will vary based on your mobile carrier or phone (see links below). However, the following best practices may help minimize the risk:

  1. Do not post your phone number publicly. Be mindful when using online forums, chat features, and social networking sites and tools. If you list your mobile number on your Facebook account, check if you have selected "Share my phone number with my friends" which can lead to third party access.
  2. Do not respond to the spam message. Spammers are unlikely to react to your request to "stop" the messages. In fact, replying to the spam number will authenticate your number as an active phone and will likely lead to more spam. Just delete.
  3. Be selective when subscribing to legitimate text alerts. Many legitimate businesses offer text alerts for coupons, news updates, and more. Because these are often optional, and companies may sometimes share information for marketing or other purposes, you may want to limit your text subscriptions to only businesses you trust.
  4. Research all suspicious texts. When you receive a text from an unknown or short code number, you may want to search it on the Internet. If the number is a well known spammer, the search results will often include consumer reports on the nature of the scam.
  5. Report all text spam to your carrier.