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Think twice and protect yourself from phone text scams | The Homepage

By Juliet Martinez

You’re going about your day and your phone lights up with a text that says, “Your refund is waiting for you!” or “Did you make a purchase for $1,240 at Walmart?” And then it asks you to reply or “Click here,” with a web address of nonsense letters and numbers. The text might come from an unknown number asking you to participate in a poll, or saying simply, “Hi John. What’s new?”

If this has happened to you, you might have been the target of a text scam. Text scams cost Americans $330 million in 2022. Half of the victims lost more than $1,000 according to a June report from the Federal Trade Commission.

A cartoon drawing shows a cell phone with a rectangular speech bubble in front of it. On the bubble is a red light over a scammer sitting behind a laptop.
Image by madedee – stock.adobe.com

These scams take advantage of how fast most of us check our phones and respond to texts. They may contain deceptive messages like promises of prize money or a job. Or they make you worry that someone hacked a financial or social media account. So you quickly click on a suspicious link.

Criminals use a lot of angles to get victims’ personal information. Here are some of the main ways they work.

Fake fraud prevention alerts

Scammers love impersonating a bank or Amazon. They send a text asking if you made a large purchase, directing you to answer “yes” or “no” or call a certain number. If you reply, the fraudulent “fraud department” will call you.

They then ask for personal information like Social Security number, birth date and other details. They can use these to steal your identity. Or they tell you they fixed the problem, but added a couple of extra zeros to the refund. Oops! Now you must return the supposed overage. Half of the victims of this scam lost more than $3,000 last year, according to the FTC.

“Free gifts” that can cost a lot

A text comes in looking like it comes from your cell phone carrier or your favorite online retailer. It may promise a customer appreciation gift or “thank you” for paying your bill on time. These are fake. If you click the link and pay the “small shipping charge,” scammers now have your credit card number, expiration date and three-digit security code.

Bogus package delivery alerts

Texts that claim to come from FedEx, UPS or Amazon can take advantage of our online shopping habits. They may even include a link that looks almost right. Instead of www.fedex.com, it may say www.fed.ex.com. It is too easy to click through to pay a small “redelivery fee.” This gives scammers the credit card information they want.

Too-good-to-be-true job offers

Whole Foods or Walmart mystery shopper jobs promising $1,000 per week are a popular angle for this scam. But if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Job seekers who sign up and give their new “employer” direct deposit information have given scammers access to their bank accounts. The FTC says scammers target people who post resumes on employment websites like Indeed.

The FTC says if you get any texts like this, forward them to 7726 (SPAM). This helps your wireless provider spot and block similar messages. You can also report suspicious texts to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

The most important way to protect yourself against text scams is to slow down. Read them carefully. Never reply to or click on a link in an unexpected text message. And never give out your Social Security number or credit card information to someone who contacts you out of the blue. You can also set up your cell phone to reject spam calls or messages.

Learn more about how to spot and avoid scams – and what to do to recover money if you paid a scammer – by visiting ftc.gov/scams and ftc.gov/textscams.


Juliet Martinez is the managing editor of The Homepage.

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