Spot fake text messages and prevent phishing scams

Diana Sievers

8 min read Last Updated Aug 19, 2022

Image of a women frustrated with fake text messages

It seems like just about everyone has received a fake text message. Fake text messages can come from many places, but they all have one thing in common: they’re designed to trick you into sharing your personal information. 

Fake text messages often come from phony businesses and can be convincing enough to fool anyone. If you’re not careful, fake text messages can lead to identity theft, financial fraud, and plenty of other problems. In this article, we’ll teach you what fake text messages are, how to identify them, and how to protect yourself against phishing scams.

Frequently asked questions

Let’s start by addressing some common questions on this topic.

What are fake text messages?

Fake text messages (also known as spam texts, phishing texts, smishing, or SMS spam) are texts that aren’t sent by the person they claim to be. They can be sent from fake phone numbers or fake email addresses, and often contain links to fake websites. Fake text messages are often used in an attempt to steal your personal information, including your bank account number, social security number, or your passwords. Scammers who send fake text messages might be looking to get money or to spread malware.

What is malware?

Malicious software, more commonly known as malware, is software that’s designed to damage a computer, server, or network. Malware can come in many forms, including viruses and spyware. It can spread through fake text messages, email attachments, or by visiting infected websites. Once it’s installed on a system, malware gives attackers access to sensitive information and makes it easy for them to control the device or delete important files. 

What is phishing?

Phishing is a cybercrime where the target is contacted by email, telephone, or text message. Cybercriminals pretend to be from a legitimate organization, and they’ll often impersonate a company or government agency, such as a bank, the electric company, or IRS. Phishers will then try to trick people into clicking a link or sharing sensitive information.

What is smishing?

Smishing (also known as text phishing) is a term used to describe scams that use text messages or SMS as the primary attack platform. Smishing is used to gather different types of personal information, including address, credit card information, and more. Some common examples of smishing include fake text messages about package updates, act-now promotions or urgent warnings, and bank notifications.

Sending texts from a fake number

Some people use online texting services or apps when they want to send messages from a phone number that’s not their own. They might not want to share their personal information, or they may be playing a prank on a friend. People who use fake phone numbers need to be careful. Texting services and apps that offer phony numbers can still track the person’s ID or IP address. 

How to identify fake text messages

Spam texts can be very convincing – so how can you tell if a text message is real or fake? Here are some telltale signs to look out for:

  • Be cautious of unexpected gifts. If you’re suddenly being offered something for free, be careful – it could be a scam. The message might say you’ve won a contest or free money. Another popular scam is a random text message about a delivery issue with an unexpected package. This is just a way to try and get your information.
Example of a fake text messages with a free gift offer
Example of a fake text message with free gift offer
  • Be skeptical of urgent messages. If you get a text saying you need to act immediately, proceed with caution. Many scammers use this tactic to try to get you to respond quickly without thinking. These types of fake text messages might pretend to be your bank or a government agency. 
  • Watch out for grammatical errors. While everyone makes mistakes, a text message with awkward language or multiple spelling and grammar errors is likely to be fake. If this was coming from a legitimate business, they’d make sure their message was error-free.
Example of a fake text messages with grammatical errors
Example of a fake text message with grammatical errors
  • Check the sender’s name, number, email address, or URL. If you don’t recognize the sender, or if the name and number don’t match up, there’s a good chance the message is fake. An easy way to spot a fake text message is if the phone number isn’t a typical ten-digit numerical number or a six-digit shortcode.

Scammers will try to trick you by using the names of legitimate companies, but there will be something slightly off with the email address or URL in the message. For example, some scammers might pretend to be from PayPal.com, but the email reads something like x123_yafhkdghga@paaypal.com or the URL reads www1.paaypal.com

If the spam text has a suspicious-looking link, this is a big red flag. DO NOT click on the link or follow any of the prompts.

Example of fake text messages with a suspicious link
Example of a fake text message with a suspicious link

Protecting yourself against text scams

If you think you’ve received a phishing attempt through text, do not click on any links, open any attachments or respond to the message. Instead, you should report it, block the sender and delete the suspicious message from your inbox. Reporting fake text messages can prevent them and help protect other people from being scammed in the future.

Report fake text messages

If you think you’ve received a fake text, there are several ways to report it. 

1. Report text scam attempts to your wireless provider. 

  • Press and hold the fake message you want to report – and be careful not to click on any links. Then select “More,” choose the message you want to forward, click on the arrow in the bottom right corner, and forward it to 7726 (SPAM). 

2. Report spam text on the messaging app you use.

  • Android users can report spam text messages within the Messages app on an Android phone or tablet. Press and hold the message you want to report, tap “Block,” then “Report Spam,” and then select “OK.”
  • iOS users can report spam text messages within the Messages app on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. Under the message, you’ll see a “Report Junk” option you can tap.
Example of a fake text messages you can report as junk on ios
Example of the “Report Junk” option on iOS

3. Report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

  • To report fake text messages to the FTC, you can either file a complaint online at ReportFraud.ftc.gov or call 1-877-FTC-HELP. When you call, be sure to have the following information ready:
    • The phone number that the text came from
    • The date and time that you received the text
    • The content of the text
    • Whether you responded to the text
    • Any other relevant information, such as whether you know the sender or whether you were charged for receiving the text

If you receive any fake text messages about your finances, don’t hesitate to call your bank or credit card company directly. You can usually find a trusted contact number on the back of your credit card. 

Block fake text messages

You can block phone numbers, contacts, and emails on your iPhone and iPad. On your Apple device, go to the Messages app, open the message you want to block, and select the contact at the top of the conversation. Tap the blue info button with the person icon inside the button, scroll down, and select “Block this Caller.”

When you report a message as spam on an Android, your device automatically blocks the sender and moves the message to your “Spam & blocked” folder. 

Be vigilant of text scams

By being aware of these scams, you can protect yourself, your business, and your sensitive information from fraudsters. If you think you may have received a fake text message, the best thing to do is to report it to the authorities. By being vigilant, you can help protect yourself and others from these insidious scams.

How Birdeye helps secure your business’s data with Birdeye messaging

With Birdeye Messaging, all of your incoming and outgoing messages are encrypted end-to-end to keep your business information safe and secure. Our all-in-one platform makes it easy to connect with your customers via text, social media, Webchat, and email using a single, streamlined inbox. To learn more about Birdeye Messaging, get a demo.

Originally published Jul 28, 2022 8:03 AM, updated Aug 19, 2022