Watch Out for Strange Text Messages Trying to Steal Your Personal and Financial Information

don't respond to any suspicious text messages from unfamiliar numbers, even if they seem innocent

Watch Out for Strange Text Messages Seeking Personal Information
Image: Pexels
April 11, 2012

If you get a strange text message from an email address or number you don't recognize, it's probably best to ignore it. Believe it or not, responding to one of these messages can cause you a lot of unforeseen problems. You might find that you suddenly have unwanted charges on your phone bill or have become the victim of identity theft. In any case, you're confirming to scammers that your number is good.

Common messages

Some of the more common messages consumers receive have to do with credit or debit cards. The message may say that the consumer's credit or debit card has been blocked and that they need to call a special number to fix it.

Other common messages may use the promise of free gifts or product offers to get you to reveal personal information. Sometimes the messages may claim you have won a prize.

Still, some messages try to lure in the gullible or those who are feeling charitable, claiming that the sender is raising money for a certain charity or certain cause.

One thing in common

The one thing all of these messages have in common is that they want you to provide, at some point, personal information. This can include bank account or Social Security numbers.

illegal unsolicited messages

It's illegal to send unsolicited commercial email messages to wireless devices, including cell phones and pagers, unless the sender gets your permission first. It's also illegal to send unsolicited text messages from an auto-dialer — equipment that stores and dials phone numbers using a random or sequential number generator.

The two exceptions to this law are: 1) transactional or relationship types of messages. If a company has a relationship with you, it can send you things like statements or warranty information, and 2) non-commercial messages. This includes political surveys or fundraising messages.

What should you do If you get a suspicious text message?

  • DON'T RESPOND. Responding only confirms that your phone number is valid, making it likely that you'll get more unsolicited texts.
  • Remember, scammers may communicate by text message but your real bank or credit card company isn't likely to contact you this way if there's a legitimate problem with your account.
  • Never agree to provide personal financial information like your bank account number or SSN to someone who contacts you, no matter who they claim to be or why they say they need it.

Report ALL suspicious messages Immediately

If you receive unwanted commercial text messages, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.