May 26, 2021
Robotexts are Replacing Robocalls as SMS Spam Increases
If you’ve been receiving countless text messages telling you that you are the lucky raffle winner or that you’ve won an Amazon gift card, you’re not alone. As the federal government and telecom companies crackdown on robocalls, robotexts are taking center stage. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports receiving 93,000 complaints of unwanted text messages in 2020.
So, what are robotexts, and what can you do to prevent them? Robotexts are automated messages sent to phones. These can be made up of:
- Spam messages
- Appointment reminders
- Phishing attempts
- Political texts
Apple iMessage Exploited
As technology evolves and gets smarter, unfortunately, so do scammers who are always looking for the next best way to reach consumers.
The recent infiltration of iMessage by scammers illustrates how they will go to any end to reach consumers. Using Apple’s own technology, scammers can employ Mac OS scripts to spam consumer devices. With iMessages alerting them of the latest product they’ve “won.” Most commonly, it’s an Amazon raffle — a scam that became so pervasive that the Better Business Bureau sent out an alert decrying the messages as a scam.
When someone receives the “Amazon” raffle text, it prompts them to click on a link in the text message to claim their price. In reality, they are directed to a phishing website where they inadvertently share their account credentials and personal financial information with scammers.
Spam Scripts Target Multiple Devices
Even more concerning is that iMessage spans across all of a user’s Apple devices: iPads, iPhones, and computers. This fusion makes it even easier for the hackers to write a script that sends messages to all devices — increasing the odds the user will see and take action (accidentally or on purpose) that will grant the hacker access to their data.
The spammer usually needs a phone number to deliver the iMessage spam, but they can also use the email address that many consumers add to iMessage. Apple’s desktop client immediately tells the user whether the number they’ve entered is registered with the iMessage network or not.
Scammers can use this feature to their benefit to generate a list of verified iMessage users. Additionally, iMessage can notify the scammer whether their message has been read or not (if the recipient has read receipts turned on).
It’s also pretty simple for spammers to create iMessage accounts — all that’s needed is an email address.
These iMessage spammers are so clever that they often send text messages from a number with the same area code as the recipient — a practice known as spoofing.
Dangers of SMS Spam
While robocalls are annoying, they require much more engagement from the scammer to swindle consumers. Generally, the aim is to have the consumer hand over sensitive information or financial information. While this still holds true for SMS scams, they have an added danger.
Malware Poses a Threat
In some cases, SMS scams provide links to malware. This can compromise a device leading to security threats. Since many people keep their lives on their phones now, this can be extra worrisome. People often link phishing to email, but recent figures show that 48 percent of phishing attacks happen on mobile devices.
Easier to Target Consumers
Besides having your personal and financial information stolen, your phone number also gets tagged as valid by spammers when you reply to a spam message — even if it’s on accident. Next, your phone number will be disseminated to other spammers, which just means more spam messages are headed your way. The fact that you can accidentally click something and that robotexts can reach you on all of your devices is what makes them so much more dangerous than robocalls.
Group Text Spam
Robotech spammers are also targeting group messages by using automated programs to send thousands, even millions of group texts to random phone numbers with the hopes that somebody will take the prey and respond.
Spam in the form of group texts also creates even more frustration for many consumers. In some cases, email addresses are sending messages directly to phones which makes it impossible to block the number using call blocking apps.
Most group text spam includes a “reply stop” call-to-action. As soon as one annoyed person replies STOP, the text chain continues with more “dings” and notifications going off, leading to much more aggravation.
Tips to Help Avoid SMS Spam
The FCC recently voted on new rules banning fraudulent text messages. Unfortunately, it is a difficult industry to regulate. For the time being, at least, robotexts will likely continue. But there are some things you can do to minimize your risk of being annoyed by a robotext spammer.
Mitigating Steps to Avoid Spam
- Mark the spam messages as spam: iPhone and Apple make it easy for you to mark messages as spam.
- Block the number (if applicable): Blocking a number is a pretty simple process. On an iPhone, open the text message in question and tap on the sender’s number. Click on the (i) information icon. Under the Details screen, click on the phone number and tap Block this Caller and Block Contact. On an android, open the phone app and tap the three-dot icon in the upper right corner, and select Settings. Next, click Block numbers. There are a few options here, including unknown callers, recent calls, or from the contact list. You will want to choose or manually enter the number you want to block. You can also tap “unknown callers” to automatically block all calls from numbers not in your contacts.
- Disable group texting options (if applicable)
- Report the scam: You should report robotexts to your cellular carrier. Simply copy and forward the original text to 7726 (SPAM). This works for Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T customers. You can also file complaints with the FCC and FTC.
- Don’t click any links: You should never click any links from phone numbers you don’t know— even if the text message seems to contain personal details about you. Links can install malware on the device or take the user to spoof sites that look real but whose entire purpose is to steal personal information.
- Never reply to the scam: Don’t reply STOP or UNSUBSCRIBE to unknown numbers. This will show the spammers that your phone number is active, and it will get leaked to a database where other hackers can access it.
- Spam protection: Android phones even give you the option to automatically disable all potential spam messages from your Messages app. Go to settings and then click on Spam Protection. Next, turn on Enable Spam Protection. Now your phone will alert you if an incoming message is suspicious and likely spam.
Keeping Your Devices Safe
While every mobile device is different, there may be additional options available depending on your operating system and device type. Avoid interaction at all costs, and make sure to delete any scam texts from your inbox.
As hackers continue to develop new ways to steal our sensitive information, it’s important that we don’t let down our guards and continue doing all we can to keep the bad guys out.