In the spirit of Cyber Security Awareness Month, I wanted to highlight two growing trends and share some tips to help you stay safe when using your cell phone and home phone. Beware of a new variation of phishing called SMiShing and the other tactics which spoof local phone numbers to entice you to answer the call.
SMiShing uses SMS (for “short message service”) to commit fraud by texting your phone. Text messages are very popular and usually opened and responded to immediately making it a successful practice used by fraudsters. SMiShing attempts are also popping up on messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. The text message may include a link to click on or a message urging you to respond quickly similar to the way phishing e-mails are handled. The fraudster’s goal is to steal your money by getting your personal information.
If you receive an unsolicited text, simply pause. Any reply – even to opt-out – to a text message makes your phone number legitimate for the fraudster and susceptible to more scamming attempts. If you receive a text from a “5000” number, it is most likely sent from an e-mail. It is recommended to block the sender of a text message by forwarding the text to “7726” which spells “SPAM.” This number works for most major carriers. Your phone may also allow you to block numbers from the “settings” application. Or, simply delete the text.
Be cautious with your cell phone number. Entering contests, downloading mobile apps, or putting your number on social media may open you up to more SMiShing attempts. You can also add anti-malware software on your cell phone which may be able to block SMiShing messages. If an update is available for your cell phone, install it immediately to have up-to-date software to protect yourself from the latest threats.
Next, are you experiencing an increase in the number of local phone calls to your home or cell phone? Using technology, fraudsters, spammers, telemarketers, and robocallers are able to easily spoof the phone number that they are calling from making it appear that they are calling you from a local number when in fact it’s from a different part of the country or even a foreign country. It’s tempting to answer a call from a possible local business or neighbor which is why it is so successful. Did you know you could get a phone call from yourself? Your own number could be spoofed to get you to answer the phone! Curious? First and foremost, please don’t answer any calls that are from your own number. Obviously, you are not calling yourself and could create more unwanted phone calls.
Consider the areas you live in or lived in recent past. Because I lived in Philadelphia, I receive unsolicited phone calls from both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia area codes. It is tempting to pick up the phone when I get a seemingly “local” call, but after a few times of getting robocalls and telemarketers, I do not answer them and block the number if they don’t leave a message. You may want to consider adding your phone number to the national Do Not Call Registry to weed out the legitimate telemarketers or robocalls. Please be aware that if it is a fraudster calling, they will most likely create a false sense of urgency to scare you into providing your personal information such as your credit card, social security number or bank account information. The most common phone scams reported are from the “IRS,” “Medicare,” and “tech support” for your computer.
If you don’t know the phone number, it is best to let those phone calls go to voicemail to determine the legitimacy. If you are ever unsure about a phone call, text, or e-mail, please make a phone call to a trusted source to discuss your concerns, such as a friend or family member, or call the company directly, not using any number supplied over e-mail, phone, voicemail, or text. For example, if you receive a phone call or text stating that your credit card was compromised, call the number on the back of your credit card or statement. It might be a legitimate phone call or text that you receive, but please be aware that fraudsters are always trying to get you to act quickly without thinking.
I hope that this information provides some useful tips for you to consider when using your home and cell phones. Scams cannot truly be eliminated, but being aware of what’s out there will help prepare you for when you might get one of these calls or texts. Fortunately, there are legislative efforts to help tackle spoofing. The State Attorney Generals are supporting laws that would allow phone service providers to authenticate legitimate calls and identify spoofed calls and block them. Pennsylvania introduced a new bill that would make it a misdemeanor for displaying false caller ID with the intent to defraud, cause harm to, or critically harass the called party. In addition, new laws are being created to tackle those annoying robocalls.
If you are interested in learning more about cyber security and staying safe online, I encourage you to visit staysafeonline.org. To add your phone number to the Do Not Call Registry, please call 1-888-382-1222 or register online at donotcall.gov. You can also sign up for the AARP Fraud Watch Network at aarp.org/money/scams-fraud to receive free e-mail alerts to help you protect yourself from the latest frauds and scams and learn about scams reported by your neighbors.
Disclosure: Covington Investment Advisors, Inc. is a Federally Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein is general in nature and is provided solely for educational and information purposes and does not constitute legal, financial or tax advice. Opinions and forward-looking statements expressed are subject to change without notice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Covington Investment Advisors, Inc. uses reasonable efforts to obtain information from sources which it believes to be reliable and does not endorse, approve, certify or control the third-party content referenced.