Wake up and smell the scams, America! Text messages have settled in as the #1 choice among scammers.
According to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) tracking, the agency could receive an estimated 336,000 reports of text message scams, costing people an estimated $272 million, at an average loss of $1,000 each by the end of 2022.
One of the reasons why scammers are turning to texts is because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has forced mobile carriers to get better at thwarting voice robocalls. Now, those same carriers are having to retool to block scammers who have turned to texts to do their dirty work.
Vote for me and I'll set you free
In an email to ConsumerAffairs, an AT&T spokesperson suggested that things might get worse before it gets better, but they said that AT&T’s on the case.
One of the reasons why the problem with robotexts is likely to get worse is that election season is entering its win-at-all-cost phase. Clayton LiaBraaten, Truecaller's senior executive advisor told ConsumerAffairs that, historically, call/text spam volume increases three to five fold in the leadup to major elections.
"While some political calls/texts are legitimate campaign activity, considerable sketchy and bogus fundraising efforts try to surf the political hype and heist donations from consumers," Truecaller's rep said.
How to turn in a possible scammer
Fortunately, the release of Apple’s latest iOS 16 and the current Android operating system are making it easier for the consumer to report suspected scam texts and help AT&T and others circle the wagons on the scammers.
For anyone using the Apple and Google messaging apps, AT&T shared the steps necessary to report scammy texters. Here’s how to do it:
Open the text conversation you want to report
Click “Report Junk” in blue text and a pop-up should appear at the bottom of the screen.
Select “Delete and Report Junk” in red text
In certain cases, if you don’t see “Report Junk,” you can forward the message to 7726. “7726” will work on any carrier, too – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, et al.
Touch and hold the conversation you want to report, marking it with a check
Select Options (three dots on the upper right of screen)
Choose “Block” and then “OK”
Android phone showing steps to report spam
With a message open, select Options
Then “Block & report spam” and “OK”
If neither of those methods works, you can still get the carrier the message it needs by forwarding the text to 7726. You can also forward the unwanted text message to the carrier by sending it to 7726.
“Reporting the texts in these ways automatically shares all the necessary information with our team, including the originating number and message content. Once you report the text, we can act,” AT&T said.
The company added that the moment it receives the reported message, it goes straight to the AT&T ActiveArmor security team.
If AT&T determines it to be a scam or illegal message, it says it can take appropriate actions to help protect users and other consumers, including one or more of the following:
Block similar message content and block the number sending it.
Take down malicious websites, email accounts, and other resources used by the bad guys.
Share the information with other carriers and industry-wide security partners so they can also take action, protecting many more consumers.
It all puts pressure on the bad guy and helps stop future scams.
In researching other carriers, ConsumerAffairs found that T-Mobile and Verizon both suggest similar methods, but it would be wise to speak directly to those carriers to confirm that. You can also search “7726 +[name of carrier]” which might provide a specific carrier’s method.
Prefer to let an app do the trick?
If doing a little hoop-jumping isn't your thing, you can always go the app route to fend off robotexters and scammers.
One solution is what Truecaller calls Smart SMS, available in its Android and iOS versions of the Truecaller app. Smart SMS is powered by machine learning models that adapt based on the feedback users give it.
"Smart SMS helps you stay on top of important SMS while being protected from spam and fraud," a Truecaller rep said. "Essential information within SMS is highlighted and all SMS messages are categorized and easily accessible."
By giving feedback, users help improve the machine learning models as it collects the data people send it. For example, if a user says a message is “not spam,” the model learns that and ensures similar messages do not end up as spam for that person in the future.