Spam text messages are more than just annoying reminders we receive about a free milkshake at a local restaurant. They have the potential to be.
Perhaps you've received a message announcing you've won a trip or a warning that yourhas been hacked. Those messages are an attempt to trick you into providing personal or account information to hackers, who will then use it or access your online accounts.
Here's what you can do when you receive scam spam, as well as some advice about what not to do.
Don't open any links
Scammers are tricky. They'll send messages that appear to be from a legitimate company, such as your wireless carrier, and include a link asking you to verify your account information. The link then takes you to a site that may look real, but in reality, it's fake and it's collecting your username, password and other personal information for future use.
If you receive an unexpected message that includes a link, do not open it. If you happen to open it, do not enter any account or personal information.
Look at this fake Verizon site that's currently being used in phishing attempts, as covered by How To Geek. The site looks real and even redirects to the official Verizon site after the nefarious actors have your account credentials. Scary stuff.
Do research before replying with 'STOP'
One common method to opt-out of receiving non-nefarious spam texts (like that restaurant offering the free milkshake) is to reply to the message with "STOP." It's a quick and easy way to end messages from everything from a political campaign to your internet service provider.
But scammers use this same tool to trick you into replying to their messages, in turn letting them know that your phone number is valid and one they can target with more messages or robocalls.
Instead of quickly replying STOP to an unsolicited message, take a few seconds to look up the number to see if a recognized organization or business uses it for text messages.
I verified Comcast's number, for example, by searching for "text from 266278" after receiving a message a few weeks ago asking if I wanted updates about an outage in my area. Indeed, the number I received the message from matched a number Comcast lists on its support page.
If you verify that a number is valid, reply with STOP to remove yourself from their distribution list.
Report a bad message to your carrier
If you can't verify who sent a message, or it's clearly a scam, you can forward the message to 7726 (it spells "spam" on a phone's keypad).
AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all accept spam reports through this number. You may receive a follow-up message after reporting a message, asking for more information or to confirm the number the original message was sent from.
Some carriers, such as Sprint, will even block the number from messaging you after you've reported it.
Use your phone's built-in blocking tool
Another option is to block the number yourself. Both iOS and Android have built-in tools to block messages and calls from specific numbers.
On an, open the message in the Messages app and tap on the profile photo at the top, then tap on the Info button. On the next screen, tap on the phone number followed by Block this Caller at the bottom of the next screen.
Following those steps will block the number from both messaging and calling you.
As is usually the case with Android phones, the process to block a number will vary depending on who makes your phone and which message app you're using.
If you're using Google's Messages app, start by opening the spam message and tapping on the menu button in the top-right corner and selecting Details from the list of options. On the following screen, select Block & report spam followed by OK. The Messages app will send the number and the 10 previous messages from it to Google for analysis to improve future spam detection. Your replies to the number are not sent to Google. If you'd rather just block the number, uncheck the box next to "Report spam" before tapping OK.
Samsung Messages users will need to open the conversation, tap on the three-dot menu in the top-right corner, then select Block number > Block.
File a complaint with the FCC
If you want to help combat current and future spam messages, and you're in the US, you can file a complaint with thewhenever you receive a message that falls into one of these three categories:
- An unsolicited commercial text message
- An automated message sent to your phone without your prior consent
- An automated message from a telecommunications company, or another company advertising a telecommunications company's products or services sent without your prior consent
Visit this site to file a complaint with the FCC. It won't immediately stop messages from arriving on your phone, but it will at least help the FCC track down bad actors.
Just as you don't have to deal with spam messages, you don't have to deal with robocalls either. You won't be able to put an end to them for good, but you can at least cut back on the number of times your phone rings.
Originally published last week. Regularly updated.