Smishing Scams: Sorry, You Did Not Win a $1,000 Target Gift Card

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scams and moneyCyberspace is chock-full of scammers trying to steal our money and even our identities. Most of us know how to avoid the common scam come-ons, but there are always new ones popping up. One of the latest dangers is called "smishing."

Smishing is similar to "phishing," in which you receive an email that seems to be from a reputable source, asking for your credit card data, password, or other private information. Only instead of an email, smishing takes place through the SMS text messages you receive on your cell phone.

Spotting a Smish

An incoming smishing attempt will probably look like it's been sent by a bank or a familiar company, or perhaps a lottery-prize notification service. In phishing emails, you can sometimes spot typos or sloppy writing that will tip you off that the source is a fraudster (though many emails will look absolutely convincing). With smishing, though, the content is more limited and it can be hard to tell a fake from the real thing -- except, of course, for the fact that banks, companies, and lotteries typically won't text you.

Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna advises: "Ignore texts that look like they're coming from your bank or credit card... Flip over your credit or ATM card and call the number on the back. If there's a problem with your account, that's the best way to find out."

Sorry, You Didn't Win

Some big scams making the rounds these days are trying to lure naïve consumers with promises of $1,000 gift certificates to Best Buy (BBY), Walmart (WMT) or Target (TGT). The appeal is clear. Who among us, after all, doesn't need a bigger, thinner, shinier TV? Or a new computer or camera?

The text might announce, "Congratulations, you've won!" and might invite you to enter a code to claim a prize. You may be given a toll-free number to call, or asked to reply to the text. It might have a link for you to click, as well.

All of these are ways for the con artist to seek out suckers. If you respond, he'll know he has a live one on the line and will proceed to extract personal information from you. Or, you may be asked to wire some money before you receive your big check. Clicking on the link might even install a virus on your cell phone.

Retailers whose names are used in these scams are understandably unhappy about it.

A Walmart representative, for example, has explained that the company does not send out text messages seeking personal information. A Best Buy spokesperson noted that, "Best Buy continues to pursue the individuals and entities responsible for using Best Buy's trademark without authorization. We share the frustration of our customers, and are taking efforts that will put an end to this unauthorized use."

ABCs from the BBB

The Better Business Bureau has issued warnings about this kind of scam. Here's some advice from the BBB:

  • Don't fall for it. Know that retailers or others generally don't just give away very valuable gift cards or products for free. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Don't reply. Delete the message, without replying. If the text includes a phone number, don't call it. You'll just be calling attention to yourself as a potential victim to target. Don't click any links, as they could leave dangerous files on your phone or other device.
  • Don't give up your personal information. You may be told that your information is needed in order to release a prize to you. Don't believe it. Don't give your bank account number or wire money to anyone, either. (Some scammers say you need to send in money for shipping or taxes, for example, before they can send you a big gift.)
  • Report it. Call your cell-phone service provider and have the number the text came from blocked. You might have them block all premium text messages, as well.
  • If the scammers succeed: If you think you've been a victim of smishing, contact the BBB. They can help you determine if you've been victimized and file a complaint against the perpetrator. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftc.gov or via 1-877-HELP (4357). You should also call your affected credit card companies or banks, to alert them and perhaps cancel accounts and get new ones.
  • Be vigilant: Finally, remember to check your credit report regularly, for signs of foul play. You may, after all, have been victimized without even realizing it. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the reporting agencies once per year, at www.annualcreditreport.com to look for fraudulent activity, and report the incident to BBB.

These scams can make our lives miserable, but only if we let down our guard. Be informed and proactive. You don't have to be a victim.

Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, owns shares of Walmart, but she holds no other position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Best Buy. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Walmart.


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42 Comments

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ADRIAN M

Here is the scammers site info. Give them a call, I did!!
Registered through: GoDaddy.com, LLC (http://www.godaddy.com)
Domain Name: DOMAGNUM.COM
Created on: 25-May-12
Expires on: 25-May-13
Last Updated on: 25-May-12

Registrant:
Domains By Proxy, LLC

DomainsByProxy.com
14747 N Northsight Blvd Suite 111, PMB 309
Scottsdale, Arizona 85260
United States

Administrative Contact:
Private, Registration DOMAGNUM.COM@domainsbyproxy.com
Domains By Proxy, LLC
DomainsByProxy.com
14747 N Northsight Blvd Suite 111, PMB 309
Scottsdale, Arizona 85260
United States
(480) 624-2599 Fax — (480) 624-2598

Technical Contact:
Private, Registration DOMAGNUM.COM@domainsbyproxy.com
Domains By Proxy, LLC
DomainsByProxy.com
14747 N Northsight Blvd Suite 111, PMB 309
Scottsdale, Arizona 85260
United States
(480) 624-2599 Fax — (480) 624-2598

November 30 2012 at 7:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gedun7

Just got word---I WON!!!!

Deleted w/o response, as per article

Thank

Gene in Rio Rancho

November 13 2012 at 8:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kpeter2137

Just nine cents will take care of the scammers that don't want to work for a real living - "Bang, your dead!!!

June 01 2012 at 1:52 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
juanibarn8

Do be careful about people calling saying they have $10.000 federal reserve grant for college for your student who is graduating now. Tho they need for you to put $110.00 in to their account before it is sent. Phone number is 202-657-6540 out of Washington DC They sound like thier from India.

June 01 2012 at 7:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
juanibarn8

also look out for people calling saying that the Federal reserve grant has $10,000 for your child for school who is going to college, but you must pay 110.00, to them before you get it .They have the students name and some how your phone number the number they call from is in Washington DC the number is 202-657-6540

June 01 2012 at 7:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
fridaylong

The biggest scam currently running in Washington state IS Rob McKenna. He lies, he cheats, and he steals money from taxpayers to support his party.

June 01 2012 at 2:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
zapdog4

If you provide any personal information based on an email or sms that you were not expecting or initiated, then you deserve what you get.

June 01 2012 at 12:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sue

Anyone that falls for these things is stooooooooopid

May 31 2012 at 11:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
psridgell

Not hardlya new scam, I have been getting the mallwart giftcard scam for many years

May 31 2012 at 9:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
deerpal

For years my little old auntie fell for all these scams (before the advent of the internet) ... She just never seemed to understand that all those "free prizes" weren't really free...considering that she had to pay $19.95 postage and handling... And the prize was always some cheap piece of trash like a small hand held battery operated fan (and no.,..it did not come with battery) ... Most of the stuff was stuff you would find at the $1 store (88 cent store back then... Oh ! and she sent money to help support anyone who wrote and said they rescued animals (she had stacks of those) ... We tried and tried to get her to understand... But I guess she went to her maker happy that she had won all those "prizes" and supported all those poor puppies...sigh...

May 31 2012 at 9:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply