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Over the last couple of years, reports of SMS fraud and spoof text messages have increased. Technological advancements provide fraudsters new avenues for taking advantage of unsuspecting users. This has been true from the first email scam to today's fraudulent SMS messages. Cybercriminals are getting savvier by the day just as you learn how to avoid security threats on the web.
You may not know it, but most cyberattacks occur through one or more social engineering elements, such as smishing and spoofing via SMS messages. However, only a fraction of the population understands these social engineering techniques. Fortunately, in this post, you will learn about these text message social engineering techniques and how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of SMS fraud or spoof text messages.
What is SMS Spoofing?
SMS spoofing refers to the act of a criminal pretending to be someone else in order to commit fraud, perform cyberattacks, or spread malware. Fraudsters camouflage their sender ID so that they can claim to be something or someone they are not. As a result, it makes it easier for you to share personal details or click links to execute SMS spoofing attacks successfully.
Today carrying out SMS originator spoofing using an online service provider is a lot easier, and it is one of the latest online scams you should be aware of. Many criminals rely on bulk messaging services to create any sender ID they want. Not long ago, you needed a business phone system to be able to spoof the sender's identity. However, today anybody can download an app that allows them to send spoofed messages.
The sole purpose of a spoofed SMS is to convince a user to share personal data, send money, or download malicious software. Spoofed messages may result in criminal activities such as financial theft, fraud, or hacking. At this point, it is worth pointing out that spoofed SMS messages are more dangerous than you may think.
What Ways Do Fraudsters Use to Steal Your Data?
To make spoof text messages look valid, fraudsters often alter one number, symbol, or letter in the sender ID. Once you trust the origin of the text message, you are more likely to click on the embedded link that may require you to provide personal details they need, such as financial information.
Keep in mind that spoofing is not limited to text messages. That said, the most common form of SMS spoofing involves receiving a text message indicating an issue with a recent purchase or transaction. It is rare for spoof text messages to target random people. Often, fraudsters target individuals waiting for sensitive information like bank transactions or delivery confirmations.
Since you are expected to take action, fraudsters know you are more likely to click on links that can either take you to a fake login page or infect your device with malware. Such a spoof text will cause identity theft, financial loss, and data breaches in just one click.
Spoof Text Messages Look Very Natural
Apart from family and friends, scammers can also send texts to your phone. Scammers will send you a spoof text message pretending to be friendly. To make the message more convincing, scammers tend to use common names such as Ann or Don.
Besides, as online shopping increases, scammers are now sending text messages indicating that you have a package waiting for you. A recent text message scam involves sending text messages to unsuspecting victims to claim ownership and confirm delivery using an attached link. If you open the link and provide personal details, you will potentially let cybercriminals steal your data. With these details, cybercriminals may access your bank account.
Another way scammers will try to get you is through a message claiming you have won an award. Of course, everyone likes to win. However, in this case, if you fall for it, the scammer will be the one winning. Unless you signed up for such prizes, you should always avoid opening such links and providing sensitive details.
Three Most Common Types of SMS Spoofing
Today, technology allows scammers to send free spoofed texts from the comfort of their mobile devices. Regarding SMS spoofing, scammers send messages depending on what they want to achieve. As such, we can categorize SMS spoofing into three broad categories.
Fake Money Transfer SMS Messages
Using SMS for e-commerce is an excellent way to shop online. As online shopping became popular, SMS fraudsters have been capitalizing on the need to act that comes with e-commerce. To send convincing spoof texts, fraudsters visit online stores to get important details such as financial institution contact. Once they get that information, the scam is complete.
The fraudster can then send fraudulent SMS impersonating the financial institution confirming a transaction. This makes it easy for you to fall victim to cashback transaction scams. Generally, the scam requires you to either access a certain link to scan a QR code to claim your cashback. This is how scams of fake money transfers work.
Harassment Messages by Fraudsters
Since scammers can assume almost any identity, they can send harassing, spoof text messages. Sometimes, SMS spoofs are not for financial purposes; rather, spoofing can be for personal reasons. Spoof messages are sent to get back at others and even intimidate victims. Scare tactics are popular among scammers. Often scammers will send text messages to mobile phone numbers informing family members that one of them is in a hospital or police custody.
Pretending to Be a Well-Known Company
SMS spoofing allows fraudsters to send messages to your mobile number, assuming the identity of a popular company name. Today, sending spoof text messages pretending to be one of the highly productive companies takes little effort.
Suppose a scammer knows when your house insurance will expire, and you have to renew the insurance. The scammer can then use this information to try to con you. Instead of getting you to renew your insurance, the scammer will redirect you to a company website that has nothing to do with insurance. To accomplish this, they use SMS phishing that includes links to the supposedly official messages they send to you to complete the scam.
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Spoof Text Messages
Although you cannot prevent scammers from sending texts to your mobile phone, there are ways you can avoid text scams. You should always look out for signs to understand if the text message you receive on your phone is legit or a scam.
Always remember that smishing is a crime that depends on fooling users into cooperating by either providing information or opening compromised links. One of the simplest protections against SMS spoofing at your disposal is generally doing nothing. This incredibly basic measure will render the malicious text message useless. That said, here are some of the ways you can protect yourself from an SMS spoofing attack.
Examine the Details of the Sender
The first thing you should do is to double-check the originating mobile number for even the slightest changes. If you are not keen, you may not be able to notice a change of just one digit in the phone number. You should do this, especially if you receive a text message from an unknown number. If you come across odd-looking contacts like 4-digit ones, this could indicate using an email-to-text service. This is one of the techniques scammers use to hide their phone numbers.
Also, you should analyze the content of the spoofed messages for grammatical errors and subtle changes. Before you reply to any text message, especially when something feels off, check if the message contains unusual requests from someone you are familiar with or an institution.
Avoid Opening Links in SMS
One way to protect yourself is to never open links you receive on your phone as part of a text message. You should contact the legitimate institution through official contact channels if you suspect something. Keep in mind that institutions such as banks will never request you to share sensitive information through a short message service.
Often, such institutions require you to access their platform using your confidential credentials or request you to visit their offices physically. If the message claims to come from your merchant or bank, you should call them directly to clear any doubts. Such institutions never request you to change your login credentials through SMS. What's more, any urgent notices do come from an official phone line or online accounts.
It is important to note that some scammers even try to send links through chats on social media platforms such as Facebook Messenger or iMessage. Therefore, avoid clicking on links from people you do not normally share. Unless you verify the link is legit, you should keep off unfamiliar links.
Avoid Responding to Imperative Messages
Usually, scammers want you to react instantly since they know you may uncover the scam if you take your time. So, whenever you receive a text message with a sense of urgency, that should be a red flag. You should treat any attempt to make you act immediately with a lot of caution. Be skeptical that it is a possible smishing attempt, and proceed carefully.
Even SMS spoof messages may prompt you to text "STOP" as a way of unsubscribing. This can be a trick to establish if that is an active phone number. The rule of thumb is never to engage since scammers depend on your anxiety or curiosity, depending on the situation at hand.
For example, an attacker may send a spoof text requesting you to reset your password. Of course, the message will come complete with a link to a spoofed website that resembles the real thing. Almost always, you are the only one who can request a password reset. So, if you get a text message, you do not know its origin; this is a clear indication someone is trying to scam you through an SMS service.
Do Not Believe Offers That Are Too Good to Be True
SMS spoofs will sometimes try to get you down your guard by sending enticing offers that appear too good to pass. If this happens, use discretion. This is especially true if the message comes from a business you do not interact with, or you do not remember signing up for such offers. If that is the case, chances are the messages are coming from a fraudster. When the message comes from a place you shop at, but the offer does not seem to be something you would expect from the business, you will be safe to assume that the text is not legit.
Use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Even when an attacker has your password, it will be useless if you use multiple channels to verify your identity when making online transactions. Using multi-factor authentication provides you with an extra level of protection since you have additional keys such as verification codes to authenticate transactions.
Often, MFA will send texts to your phone number containing the necessary verification code. Some variations of MFA use a dedicated app such as Google Authenticator to verify your identity. That said, in the wrongs, both your password and MFA recovery codes can compromise your security. So, you should never share this information with anyone. Instead, use them on the official sites.
Search the Content of the Message
It may surprise you that most scammers are not as original as they wish to be. Most phone number scamming attempts reuse templates, so their format is more or less the same. If you get messages you suspect to be spoof texts, you can search the message online to see if it is legit or not. There is a likelihood that it is not the first time such a message appeared in anyone's inbox. So, you can find out someone online has already questioned if the message is a scam.
Install Anti-Malware App
Today, there are several products to protect your mobile phone from malicious apps and smishing links. So, to keep yourself safe online, install an anti-malware application. Investing in anti-malware systems will help you establish suspicious messages. In addition, the anti-malware will scan your system for threats to protect you from cyberattacks, ensuring even more security and peace of mind.
How is SMS Spoofing Related to Phishing
SMS phishing or smishing and SMS spoofing are social engineering techniques that exploit people through text messages. In both methods, the attacker will send messages from supposedly trusted entities to trick the mobile phone user into providing personal details or opening malicious links.
Cybercriminals pretending to be a popular organization or a friend use these social engineering techniques to dupe victims into providing sensitive personal details like login credentials or bank details. If you fall victim to spoofing text messages, you let the text message sender steal your identity and even allow them to empty your bank accounts.
Often smishers will try to convince you to share confidential information or credentials that you use to access your bank accounts. This happens to be one of the most common forms of attacks by cybercriminals. In this attack, the attackers capitalize on your emotions and fears to access your account.
Providing a number to call or a link to open is one of the ways SMS spoofing helps cybercriminals carry out ID spoofing by making sure the phone number resembles the legitimate one. Any link in spoofed messages will redirect you to a spoofed website that is an exact copy of the legitimate site. The spoofed site will request login credentials that will then be accessible to the attackers. Armed with these details, the attacker can access and plunder your accounts.
Difference Between SMS Spoofing and Smishing
In the tech circles, both smishing and spoofing are connected to phishing, which is a fraudulent attempt to access sensitive details for financial or personal reasons. Like spoofing, smishing is a fraudulent activity that takes place online. The difference is it entails downloading a virus via SMS to obtain the relevant details from the user.
SMS spoofing differs from smishing since it only involves changing the details of the SMS sender. The aim is to make the recipient of the message believe it comes from a person or company they trust and know. That said, both of these are techniques fraudsters tend to use to carry out scams online. While many smishing attacks hide the sender's details, text spoofing does not require the sender to conceal their identity; rather, the message comes from unknown contact.
Legitimate Uses of SMS Spoofing
Even though SMS spoofing has been getting a bad rep, you can use it for legal purposes. Thanks to text messaging platforms, you can send texts as part of your marketing approach. With this SMS service, you can easily send SMS regardless of whether you have basic computer knowledge or you are an expert. Best of all, the service is available over the internet. Some of the legitimate ways include sending official and bulk messages and identity protection.
Send Bulk SMS Campaigns
One way companies connect with customers is through text messages. Text messaging platforms let you send bulk texts to your contacts at the click of a button. The approach is ideal for alerting clients about an upcoming event or product or updating them about a new product.
Using Textback.ai in your business to send bulk SMS gives you control over how you communicate with your clients and staff. With Textback.ai, you get features such as smart text scheduling, automated event messages, autoresponders, and smart triggers.
Broadcasting Official Messages
Most businesses, including prominent service providers and banks capitalize on SMS to broadcast official messages by spoofing their text messages as a way of inspiring trust.
That said, it can backfire if users use the names of popular financial institutions to trick users into providing sensitive details from unsuspecting individuals. Therefore, confirming with your institutions before you share any details is advisable.