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Smishing

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Nowadays it is very common to receive an official-sounding message on our phones, telling us there is a problem with our bank, mail, or government, and giving us a chance to solve that issue quickly. That is more often than not a smishing attempt, which is a technique for scammers to acquire sensitive personal data such as email addresses and bank account numbers. With so many such messages being sent our way every day, it is so easy to slip and fall when a novel one arrives, and that is why we have to be extra vigilant when it comes to these matters.

I was reminded of this topic/threat when I got a text message from an unknown number, this time claiming that I had a no contact traffic violation and was given a link/url where I could settle the matter. This was a new one, so it initially caught me by surprise and piqued my curiosity, until I double checked to see the sender and saw the biggest red flag, which was that the sender was just another regular number.

Before that, I had already encountered many smishing attempts, the most claiming to be from PHLPOST, saying I had a package that couldn’t be delivered, and providing a link where I can settle the matter. Luckily for me, I am not a big shopping guy, whether online or offline, so I knew that I’m not expecting any packages. Of course, aside from that, the usual scam giveaway of the regular mobile phone number also gave it away.

In this day and age, opening links from strangers pretending to be someone else would be the equivalent of crossing the street without first looking left and right. Anything that we receive on our smartphones that isn’t from a trusted source should always be treated with suspicion and that means minimal interaction. It no longer takes multiple emails with a Nigerian prince for a scam to be successful. In the worst case scenario these days, the simple act of opening a link can already compromise our devices with malware. Those who are gullible enough to provide personal details should brace themselves for being targeted with even more elaborate scams that are designed to separate you from your hard earned money.

Smishing, or SMS/text message phishing, is the use of unsolicited text messages to steal personal information and money and commit fraud. The key words here are unsolicited and fraud. So if you get an unsolicited text from an unknown or untrusted source, usually pretending to be an institution you trust, your guard should always automatically go up, even if your curiosity is piqued.

Smishing usually impersonates your bank, the post office, the government, authorities, and then provides a link. Opening the link leads you to a webpage that asks for personal information, or maybe bank details, which is what the scammers need to worm their way into getting as much of your money as they can. The best defense for this would be vigilance and awareness, and upon seeing anything suspicious, is to totally ignore any smishing attempts.

Advances in smishing tech means that some may now be able to install malware on your phone just from opening their link, which is why the no-touch precaution may be the best way to deal with their attempts at scamming.

Another worrying rumor I’ve heard is that they are now able to send SMS that hide the number and instead come with an official looking identifier. If this is true, then we will need to be extra vigilant because this is the easiest sign to tell them apart from the official sources. Personally, I hope it isn’t true and if it is, the telcos are doing something to counter it, because that would be problematic if they are now able to improve their impersonation game.

Sometimes, a smish will hit the jackpot and arrive just as you have a legitimate concern that matches it. The key here is that as a potential victim, we should always remain aware of the potential damage a successful smish can unleash. Remember that if there are any suspicions, stay the course and do not interact, because even if your legit concern is serious, it can only be addressed only by the official channels. Note that if you fall for the scam, you can be pretty sure that you’ll still be going back to the official channels as you work to undo the damage.

Smishing is a variant of phishing, which is a play on the word fishing. Whether the scammers use SMS, messaging apps, or email, the point is to send out as much bait as they can in the hope of catching something. It is up to us not to take the bait. As time goes by, that bait will most likely evolve, and along with it, so must we. That is part of this digital world that we live in, and as we taught our kids how to cross the street, now we must teach each other how not to get scammed.*

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