How to identify fraudulent SMS scams

Wondering if this SMS is a scam? Here are five things to look for to determine if it’s a fake.


Megan Loe, Brandon Lewis, Tamika Cody


2:15 p.m. EDT March 22, 2022


2:15 p.m. EDT March 22, 2022




If you have a mobile phone, you are probably receiving scam text messages. Some of them may seem legit, but there are red flags to be on the lookout for that point towards a fake message.

VERIFY gives you five key tips you can use to determine if a text message is a scam. Click here to read our tips for spotting email scams.

THE SOURCES

Here are five things to look for to determine if a text message is real or fake:

  1. Dummy phone number: Scammers often try to impersonate well-known companies or the government in SMS scams, but they use a fake phone number.

    The scam text message below claims to be from the California Employment Development Department (EDD), but is from a random phone number that does not register on caller ID and has a Minnesota area code for a California message.

Scammers can also use a technique called “neighbour impersonation” where the message appears to be from a phone number with your area code. You can always look up the number use a reverse phone lookup tool to find out if it’s real. If there are no results, it’s a red flag, Rexxfield, a cyber investigation services company, said.

  1. Unsolicited message: You might receive a text message saying there was a problem delivering a package to your home. First you need to ask yourself, “Am I expecting a package?” If the answer is no, you are probably dealing with a scammer.

    amazon says fraudulent texts claiming to be from the company will often include an order confirmation for something you did not purchase or an attachment to a “confirmation”. Do not click on a link in the text, instead go to Your commands on the Amazon website to see if there is an order that matches the message details. If there is none, the message is not from Amazon.

  1. Urgent tone or excitation: Scammers will often use an urgent tone or try to create a sense of excitement in their text messages. They might claim you won a prize, promise free gift cards or couponsor notify you that an account has been deactivated.

    In our example below, the scammer claims that you will receive $500 if you sign up for a Whole Foods research project.

  1. Spelling and grammatical errors: A legitimate business will generally hire professional writers and editors for business communications. If you notice odd wording or spelling and grammatical errors, a scammer is likely sending the message, according to the BBB.

    In our example of fraudulent text that claims to be from California’s EDD, there are punctuation issues and the wrong words are capitalized.

  1. Suspicious links: Some scam text messages may ask you to click on a link to claim a freebie or find out more about an issue. The link may redirect you to a fake website that looks real but is actually fake. Crooks can then steal your username and password if you log in.

    The link may also redirect you to an unofficial website, like in the example below where the scam texter claims to be from Amazon.

    Amazon says legitimate business websites will look like this example: https://pay.amazon.com/. Amazon will not send messages containing links to an IP address, such as http://123.456.789.123/amazon.com/.

    AT&T says you can also check if a website is secure by looking for an “s” after the “http” in a web address.

    Don’t click on a link in a text message if you don’t know if it’s real or fake.

How to report fraudulent text messages

You can report fraudulent text messages on the messaging app you use and report them to agencies like the BBB and FTC.

The FTC says you should look for the option to report junk or spam in your email app. You can read more about how to do it here and here.

You can also copy the message and forward it to 7726 (SPAM), or report it online at FTC and the BBB.

The BBB also warns against respond to fraudulent text messages. Some scammers will ask you to text “STOP” or “NO” so that you will not receive any more text messages in the future. But your response actually tells them that you have a real active phone number and could be exposed to future scams. If a text message looks suspicious, block the phone number and delete the message.

More CHECK: Factsheet: 5 tips for spotting email scams

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