Phishing text messages pose a significant threat to vulnerable individuals in our society. Scammers use them to obtain your personal information, access your online accounts, and manipulate funds in your bank account. An average smartphone user receives numerous spam and phishing messages daily.

Although preventing all phishing text messages is impossible, you can protect yourself and others by reporting and blocking them. This guide demonstrates how to report suspicious phishing text messages on your phone and safeguard your personal information.

What are phishing text messages?

A phishing attack is when someone tries to impersonate a legitimate company to steal data from innocent individuals. Before the smartphone boom, emails were the main delivery channels for phishing attacks. However, scammers now target users via text messages.

Phishing text messages, also known as smishing, are SMS messages meant to gather information from a victim. Scammers use phishing text messages to steal passwords, account information, or social security numbers. If they are successful, they can access your online accounts, including your bank accounts. They can also use the attack to obtain your credit card information and make big purchases, leaving you with a hefty bill.

An example of a smishing attack is an SMS message that appears to be from your bank or credit card institution telling you that there’s a problem with your account. Other common phishing text messages impersonate the government, finance companies, and online delivery companies. Here are common phishing text messages that you should keep an eye out for:

  • Promising you have won a lottery or deal.
  • Offering you a loan or credit card at a low interest rate.
  • Telling you there’s a problem with your bank account and that you need to take immediate action.
  • Send you fake purchase notifications for big-ticket items to scare you and ask you to contact them to cancel the purchase.
  • The modus operandi for all types of phishing text message scams is the same. They impersonate a trusted institution and tell you there’s an issue with your account or delivery. You get a link to resolve this issue. Once you click the link, you’re asked to enter personal information like usernames, passwords, PINs, or other sensitive information.

    More nefarious scammers install malware on your device when you click the link and harvest your personal data and banking information.

    How can you spot phishing text messages?

    Phishing text messages are generally easy to spot. The first and foremost rule you should remember is that no trusted organization will ever ask you to divulge personal details like financial information or authentication details or various services via text message.

    Another way to easily spot smishing is to read these messages carefully. Phishing messages often have grammatical errors, misspellings, and weird formatting. When you get a message asking for personal information with horrible grammar and formatting, you have a phishing text message on your hands. URLs will often be slightly different from that of a company you deal with, or scammers claiming to contact you from a government agency will direct you to a URL that doesn’t end in .GOV. Don’t tap or visit any links, and do not respond to their request in any way.

    If a text message seems to be from your bank, and you are concerned that it’s legit, verify by calling the official number of your bank before replying to such messages.

    How to report phishing text messages from the Messages app

    When you get a phishing text message in your inbox, you can report it with a few quick taps. The Google Messages app is the default method for sending messages on many Android phones, so you likely have it installed.

    To quickly report a phishing text message, check out the following steps:​​​​​​

    1. Open the Messages app on your phone.
    2. Long-press the phishing text message you want to report.
    3. Tap the three-dot menu in the upper-right corner.
    4. Select the Block option.
    5. The Report spam box should be checked by default, so tap the OK button to continue.
    6. That phishing text message has been blocked and reported as spam to Google and your wireless carrier.

    Notify phone carriers about phishing text messages

    Most phone carriers in the U.S. allow you to report phishing text messages by forwarding the message to 7726 or SPAM. The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) has designated 7726 (spells SPAM) for reporting spam texts, and most U.S. carriers are part of the program. So whether you use Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile, you can forward a text message to report it. The best part is that this message doesn’t count toward your mobile plan. So if you don’t have unlimited messages, you can use this service without paying extra money.

    Follow the steps below to forward a phishing text message on your Android smartphone.

    1. Long-press on the message to select it and open the three-dot menu in the upper-right corner.
    2. Choose the Forward option and send the message to 7726.

    Other than this reporting process, all the major U.S. carriers also offer separate text message blocking and reporting services. For example, if you are an AT&T customer, visit their spam text reporting website. You can also install AT&T’s ActiveArmor mobile security app to block and report spam messages and calls.

    Like AT&T, T-Mobile offers a free Scam Shield app that blocks spam text messages and calls from telemarketers, political solicitors, and more. If you receive too many spam text messages, visit your carrier’s website and see what protection they offer customers.

    Report smishing messages to FTC and FCC

    You can also report smishing message attempts to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC). When you report a message to FTC on its fraud reporting website, the data is shared with law enforcement agencies. Similarly, you can file a report with FCC by visiting its consumer complaint center website.

    Quick tips to limit phishing text messages

    Being aware of how you use your phone can go a long way in keeping phishing messages out of your list of text messages. When you combine the tips listed below, you’ll increase your level of on-device protection.

    Avoid using your real phone number online whenever possible

    Many websites have a place to put your phone number or other personal details, but this is often not required by an asterisk, only suggested. Although it may not always be possible in some cases, the more you can avoid putting your actual phone number on every website, the better.

    You can also create or use a throwaway phone number for your online accounts to reduce phishing attempts tied to your personal details.

    Don’t assume local area codes or similar numbers are from someone you know

    It is an old trick that scammers still use today for phone calls, but it’s also highly relevant for text messages. Scammers use a local area code or a phone number close to your own to make you think twice. Do not fall for such tricks, and always double-check messages before replying or clicking on links.

    Check your spam block system settings or use third-party apps

    You should also check and enable the spam-blocking settings on your phone. We covered how to protect your Google Pixel smartphone from spam calls and texts in an article. You can read the article to get an idea of how to do it on your phone.

    Reporting phishing text messages can keep our smartphones and data safe

    Not every phishing text message you receive will be after your credit card numbers or banking information. Some want your personal details to sell to shady third-party advertising companies, likely leading to even more annoying spam. Phishing text messages are harmful no matter what and should be dealt with on the spot. It may be challenging to stop them completely, but reporting these scammers benefits everyone equally.

    Also, while the top-rated Android phones have spam filtering, do not blindly trust the system and ensure to read a message before doing anything.

    Are you getting phishing emails in your inbox?

    Now that you know how to deal with phishing text messages, you might be interested in learning the best ways to handle phishing emails. They are as dangerous as their SMS counterpart. However, the process here can be a bit more complicated. Since we can’t directly report emails to wireless carriers like SMS, the responsibility shifts to the user to control their own inbox.

    Conclusion on How to report suspicious text messages

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