5 tell-tale signs of an SMS text message scam

February 4, 2022

For years, SMS text messages have become an increasingly popular method of communication for individuals and businesses alike. Due to this, scammers have taken the opportunity to invade smartphones with deceptive messages to manipulate victims into providing them with personal, identifiable information such as passwords, credit card details, home addresses and more.

This type of fraud, commonly known as smishing, is becoming increasingly complex, with many scammers adopting new technology and more advanced methods to commit crime, causing vulnerable individuals to fall victim and lose thousands in hard-earned savings.  

How do scammers get away with it? SMS text message scams, especially those that are designed to impersonate well-known companies or organisations (such as Amazon or Paypal) are effective because the company they impersonate is sending thousands, or even millions of text messages every day. With similar branding, such as using the company logo and name on the text message as well as an identical website page (if a URL link is included), many individuals can be easily fooled.  

For those who have been sent a scam text message, there are a number of ways to determine if the text message is fake. We go over the 5 tell-tale signs of an SMS text message scam below to help you avoid any emotional and financial repercussions a text message scam may have on you.

1. Incorrect Caller/Sender ID

One of the very first signs to tell if the SMS text message is a scam is to look at the caller or sender ID. If it’s different in any way to the legitimate business that the scam is trying to impersonate, this is a good sign that the text message is fraudulent.  

Don’t be fooled: if you receive an SMS text message from a business and were expecting one, be sure to check the business’ website for information on current scams or their fraud policy before tapping on any URL links or providing personal or financial data. Easy ways to tell that the Caller/Sender ID is incorrect include:

2. Receiving an unknown text message with a URL link

Many SMS text message scams contain a website link, encouraging individuals to tap on it. In some cases, tapping on the link may lead to downloading malicious software onto your device. In other cases, it may lead you to view a fake website made to copy that of a real one, asking you to input personal details or financial information.

Scammers will try their best to make sure the text message as well as the website that it’s linking to looks as genuine as possible. However, there will always be subtle differences in the URL link to watch out for when identifying a text message scam. This includes:

If in doubt, don’t tap!

3. The ‘too good to be true’ text message offer

A common text message scam that individuals easily fall victim to are text messages inviting you to enter a competition to win a prize, or saying that you have already won a prize and need to claim it. Alternatively, the SMS text message may invite you to take part in a trivia contest. If you have entered a competition recently, a genuine winning text message will usually never:

4. Stand-out spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors

Although some businesses may genuinely send an SMS text message with a spelling mistake (we’re all human, right?), most SMS text messages you receive with any visible spelling, punctuation or grammar errors are likely to be a scam. Watch out for:

Legitimate businesses tend to use natural language, proper punctuation and their SMS text message should be free of misspellings and grammatical errors. A great example of an SMS text message scam with spelling errors is the recent missed delivery, call or voicemail (Flubot) scam.  

This text message scam has been targeting Australians since August 2021, asking individuals to tap on a link to download an app to track or organise a time for delivery, or hear a voicemail. However, the message is fake, there is no delivery or voicemail. Instead, anyone who taps on the link will download malicious software called Flubot. These text messages, as you can see below, have very obvious spelling mistakes.  

5. The text message is being sent from a lengthy phone number (if not from a caller ID)

If the SMS text message is not being sent by a caller/sender ID, a common tell-tale sign of a scam may be the mobile number itself. Any SMS text messages  received from an international mobile number that contains any international code other than +61 (Australia’s country code) may be a warning sign that the SMS text message is fake. Unless you are expecting a text message from an international number, we suggest that you delete the text message immediately and avoid tapping any associated links.  

What to do if you’ve received an SMS text message scam

  1. Do not respond or click on any links within the SMS text message.
  2. If you’re unsure if the message is fraudulent, talk through the suspicious message with a friend or family member and check its legitimacy by contacting the relevant business or organisation (particularly important for impersonation phishing SMS scams).  
  3. Understand that your financial institution and other large organisations (such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, PayPal and more) would never send you a link and ask you to enter your personal or financial details.  
  4. Stay informed on the latest SMS scams and threats by regularly checking the ACCC’s Scamwatch website.
  5. If you think you’ve entered personal information into a phishing website, or your mobile device has been compromised by malicious software, contact your financial institution immediately and report the scam to the ACCC via the Scamwatch report a scam page.
  6. Visit IDCARE for further support if you’ve been a victim of identity theft due to SMS text message scams.

Stirdie: reducing SMS text messaging fraud

By ensuring all legitimate businesses are verified and sending messages to individuals via the app, Stirdie’s verified messaging tool makes it easy to recognise an SMS text message scam and avoid any consequences. Gain early access to Stirdie as part of our Beta program. Register your interest now.