That text you have for someone else? It was really meant to hook you
“Hi, Dany. I’m sorry, my vacation has been postponed. I may not be able to travel with you. So read the text message on my phone that was the first step in a new type of scam.
It’s the one you could have popped up on your own phone and intrigued. Spam calls are pretty easy to spot, but texts like these seem like honest mistakes that you might be tempted to step in and fix, letting the sender know they’ve reached the wrong person. That’s what I did. But after a minute, it became clear that the text message had indeed reached the right person, meaning anyone who would respond and possibly be a victim of fraud.
The person replied with an apology, then: “Thank you, I thought I accidentally sent the wrong text, so I met a nice and friendly friend, I think that’s a very interesting thing, ha ha. ” It’s a response designed to draw the recipient into a conversation that I could sense was not for friendly reasons. I had to admire it as a carefully crafted piece of social engineering. But the scam seemed all the more nefarious as it targets helpful people and if successful will dissuade them from being so friendly in the future.
These ostensibly misdirected messages are used to lure people into all sorts of scams, usually direct money requests or phishing. Sometimes they are just used to make sure a number is active to pave the way for other types of spammers and scammers. So here’s how to spot this particular scam and what to do if you’re a target.
What this SMS scam looks like
This scam usually starts with a message that appears to be for someone else and is quite urgent, so the recipient feels compelled to let the sender know that they have not reached the correct nobody. It could be scheduling a doctor’s appointment, asking about a sick dog, needing an answer to an urgent work issue, or following up on a date.
When someone responds, the scammer usually apologizes for the “confusion”, thanks them, and tries to engage them in a conversation beyond the original topic.
The scams subreddit on Reddit is full of examples. User robotictiger posted one(Opens in a new window) like mine, with a person supposedly trying to reach someone named George about a trip. A text sent to user adorable_orange was harder to ignore(Opens in a new window) because he started with a plea, “Doctor Bill, when will my wisdom teeth be treated?” In both cases, however, the sender quickly pivoted to express that he was happy to make a new friend under the circumstances.
One of the most common types of text messages is about a missed connection, whether it’s a supposed follow-up to a Tinder date or an invitation to dinner or a party, like this Reddit user borderlineblondie has(Opens in a new window) which began, “Hello Archer! Next time there’s a party like last week, would you like 2 to go with me? That’s Tanya by the way!”
What do these crooks want from you?
These scammers are usually looking for personal information and/or money and will let you know pretty quickly. This can often lead to a pitch to buy cryptocurrency or a request for banking information or a credit card number. Reddit user LovestoRead211 got this pretty quick(Opens in a new window). The chat turned to the sender asking what LovestoRead211 does for a living, and when the recipient said he was a small business owner, the sender was off on a pitch with “I’m an investor diversified I think I can help you invest in your business.
Date-centric text messages are, unsurprisingly, romance scams. It’s a new twist on an old con. Once the person receiving the text says the sender has the wrong number, the sender often offers to meet or text the recipient. They can send nude photos and a clickable link that they promise to have more (but this is malware) or request photos from the recipient. The borderline-blonde text conversation from upstairs quickly went that way, with “I had no idea I’d sent the wrong number!” I hope you don’t mind having a little fun tonight? »
Then there are times when the misdirected text conversation goes nowhere, but that doesn’t mean the recipient got away with it. If they answered, they are likely on a list of active numbers that the scammer will keep for future attempts or sell to others of his ilk.
How to protect yourself
If you have received one of these texts, do not reply, even if it is to troll the sender, as this will always expose you to future scams. And above all, do not click on any link in such a message. It’s the hallmark of a phishing scam, and it’s likely a malicious link that’s there to snag your personal information where you keep most of it: your phone.
If you’re trying to help someone who you think has reached the wrong number and answered, once you realize what’s going on, stop answering.
Recommended by our editors
Either way, you can report the message as spam if you’re using your phone’s text messaging app and have AT&T, Verizon Wireless, or T-Mobile. Forward the message to SPAM (7726). Then in the app, report the message as junk or spam. If you’re using a messaging app like WhatsApp, you can tap the contact and click Report Contact.
To prevent or at least reduce SMS scams like this, you can use an SMS blocker on your phone, a solution from your mobile carrier, or a third-party app.
If you gave your information or clicked on a link, go to the FTC website IdentityTheft.gov(Opens in a new window), which can tell you what to do in various scam situations from this point on. There is also Helpful FAQs(Opens in a new window) on the site.
Don’t hate the scammer, hate the scammer
After money, one of the worst things you can lose in this kind of scam is your trust in others. You don’t want to be naïve, but you don’t want to lose your empathy either. Often, the people who type these texts are greater victims than the people who fall prey to them. A Vice(Opens in a new window) investigation revealed that they are frequently engaged in forced labor as a result of human trafficking or false advertising to which they responded.
To learn more, read Don’t Get Caught! How to Spot Phishing Attempts via Email and Text, 5 Tips for Blocking Mobile Tax Fraudsters, and Caught in a Fake Romance: How to Spot Online Dating Scams.
Do you like what you read ?
Register for Security Watch newsletter for our top privacy and security stories delivered straight to your inbox.