Fake Text Messages

Posted on Thursday, May 25, 2023 in Security and Fraud Prevention

Scam Alert: Watch Out for Fake Bank Text Messages

Text-message phishing scams (also called “smishing”) have been around for a while and are growing each year. In fact, there has been a recent uptick in fake texts being received by Iowans. In particular, individuals are receiving fake texts that appear to be coming from big banks like Wells Fargo and Chase, as well of some of our local community banks.

While fraudulent texts are dangerous scams, authentic notifications from banks can be useful for letting you know when you have a low funds in your checking account, there is genuine suspicious activity or a high credit card balance. Therefore, the keys to protecting yourself from fraudulent texts are understanding the nature of the scam, knowing what red flags to look for, and taking the right steps if you receive a smishing text.

The Bait

One of a scammer’s favorite tactics is impersonating an individual or organization you know and trust, like your bank. Keep that in mind the next time you get a text message that appears to be coming from your bank.  It starts like this – your phone buzzes, and it's a “security alert” text message from an unknown number from “your bank.”. You are instructed to reply to the message or phone a number – which you obviously won’t because it’s fake.  These are sample hoax SMS:

Scam Text 1                 Scam Text 2              Scam Text 3

The Hook

If you do respond, the scammer will call you (of which the caller ID may be spoofed as the bank’s name), a scammer will pose as a bank employee and inform you that your bank account has been compromised. To stop you from losing all your money, the fake employee will urge you to use Zelle (or another money transfer app) to transfer all of your money to your own personal Zelle account.

They then guide you step-by-step into making a Zelle transaction – to a Zelle account you’re led to believe is your own. However, although the Zelle account is in your name, it is actually controlled by the scammers and any money sent to this account will go straight into their pockets.

What's the first thing to do if you get a text from "your bank?"

First, stop to consider if you've consented to receive text messages from your bank. If you have opted-in to receive messages, the bank may text you.

If you're not sure whether you've agreed to receive texts from your bank, log on to your bank account from its official website, and check your communications preferences via your personal profile or settings. If you haven't enabled text notifications, be suspicious. The message purportedly from your bank is almost certainly a scam, and you should report it to your bank and the FTC (see below).

If you have enabled text notifications, you'll need to go further to determine whether the text message is legitimate.

Spot the scam. How can I tell if a text message from my bank is legit?Scam Text 4

If you have agreed to receive text messages from your bank, look for these red flags that would indicate the text is a scam and not a legitimate message from your bank.

  • Double-check the sender’s mobile number/email address.  Take note of the caller ID, but be aware that it can be spoofed!
  • Banks will never ask for personal or confidential information via text messages. If a message wants to know your PIN code, online credentials, or other account information, ignore the message. Banks will also not ask you to verify your identity by clicking a link.
  • The text message raises a sense of urgency. Scam messages often try to scare people by indicating they need to act quickly to avoid disaster. They're expecting you to panic and act immediately. Especially if you see a bank name.
  • Be wary of links that are similar to your bank's official website but slightly different, such as having an extra hyphen or using the .info or .edu domain extension instead of .com.
  • Smishing messages might ask you to send money or make purchases -- banks will never ask you to transfer money via text message. Banks will never call and ask you to stop a fraud by using a money app, such as Zelle or Venmo, or any other bank transfer service. If you get a call like this, hang up immediately.
  • Watch out for messages that seem too good to be true -- your bank won't send you a prize announcement for a contest you didn't even know you entered.
  • You receive an alert that says your account has been temporarily suspended. While banks will send short SMS messages that may alert you about recent transactions or money you received, they won’t ask you to click on a link to reactivate a suspended account.

The educational website Banks Never Ask That (sponsored by the American Bankers Association) includes more tips for avoiding banking-related smishing scams.

How should I respond to a text message that looks like it's from my bank?

  1. Don’t respond to the message. Whether you’re asked to respond with a “STOP”, “YES” or “NO”, or to click on a link – don’t do it.
  2. Contact the bank. No matter what the message from your bank says, it's best to contact your bank directly before doing anything. Call your bank directly from the number on the back of your card or the number on their official website, NOT the number that texted you.
  3. Report the phishing attempt to the FTC by forwarding the message to 7726 (SPAM). You can also report the scam using ReportFraudftc.gov.
  4. Take a screenshot of the text message for reporting purposes to your bank. Then delete the message -- you don't want to accidentally engage with it.

  • If you didn't take any action on the text message, email it to your bank or call them with the information.\
  • If you did interact with the text message at all, such as clicking a link or replying, be sure to call your bank's phone number for fraud or security issues ASAP.

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