published Friday, March 11th, 2011

Winsett: Scams, fakery dance into wireless phone

COLUMN

By Jim Winsett

Q. I understand that there are now scams that target cell phone users. How does this happen on a cell phone?

A. We are in a new year and unfortunately that means a new scam. This time fraudsters are targeting cell phone users. Like traditional “phishing,” “smishing” schemers often pose as banks or lottery sweepstakes asking customers to contact them immediately about a pressing problem that needs to be discussed.

Victims of the bank scam are often asked to call a toll-free number and provide information, such as their debit card or account number and password, to a fake automated system. Victims have complained they have received text messages claiming their bank account is frozen with a toll-free number to call to clear things up.

Ultimately, these hackers are looking for you to respond with vital information that can lead to identity theft. In the cases of the lottery smishing scam, hackers want you to wire them money before receiving your “prize.” This is one of the biggest red flags of a smishing scam.

Text messages such as “win cash now!” and “Short on cash? Reply here!” are all red flags that a lottery sweepstakes fraud is involved. Many of these messages come with embedded links that can ultimately spread viruses to the phone if clicked.

smishing watch list

The Better Business Bureau advises consumers to do the following if they suspect they have fallen victim to a smishing scam.

1. Never reply to the text message. Schemers are preying on victims that text back and ultimately verify that the text has been sent to an active cell phone. If the message has a link in it, never click it. Many schemers use this as way to spread a viral attack on your phone.

2. Report the text immediately. If you believe you have fallen victim to a smishing bank scam, call your bank. They will be able to tell you for certain if the text is legitimate.

3. Call your cell phone provider. Your cell phone provider should be able to block the number, as well as any premium text messages.

4. Do your research. If you believe you have fallen victim to a smishing lottery sweepstakes scam, contact the BBB directly to confirm the legitimacy of the text message and to file a complaint against the business responsible.

5. Contact the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC works to legally prevent fraudulent business practices in the marketplace. File a complaint with the FTC by calling 1-877-HELP.

For more advice from BBB on identity scams, visit bbb.org.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from JimWinsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@timesfreepress.com

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