Texas authorities are warning consumers about the latest high-tech scam targeting cell phone users, called "smishing."
Smishing enables spammers to dupe people into revealing personal information — including bank account numbers and personal passwords — with phony text messages to their cell phones.
Consumers who fall for this scam are likely to have their identities stolen, and their bank accounts drained in short order.
"Smishing" is the latest evolution of harvesting personal data for fraud. "Phishing" occurs when users receive seemingly legitimate emails from authorities asking for personal information, only to be redirected to a fake Web site where their personal data is stolen.
"Vishing" is a similar technique used over Internet phone calling services such as Vonage and Skype. The scammers place hard-to-trace calls urging respondents to provide their personal data for various reasons.
Many computer users have learned to identify and delete spam e-mails that falsely appear to originate from legitimate banks, credit card companies and government agencies. Internet service providers and spam filters often block these messages so they never reach their intended targets.
Those types of spam filters, however, are not available for most cell phone text messages.
"While misspelled e-mail messages and broken address links make it simpler to judge a spam e-mail, determining whether a text message is legitimate may be difficult," said the office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. "There are no images — only text — and the message is usually short."
Smishing messages, for example, may threaten consumers about a charge that can only be cancelled if the user visits the phony Web site displayed in the message.
Another common smishing scam directs consumers to call a toll-free number to complete or cancel a financial transaction. "An operator at the number will helpfully take the callers credit card or debit account number — and use that information to defraud the caller," authorities said.
Legitimate financial institutions do not call or e-mail customers seeking this information. Customers who are concerned about a purportedly pending charge should contact the service provider or bank directly and inquire about it.
Abbot's office said consumers can protect themselves from getting taken in a smishing scheme by:
Never responding to text messages that ask for personal information;
Never calling any unknown telephone numbers provided in a text message;
Never clicking on any Web links provided in a text message. Activating those links may direct consumers to fraudulent Web sites -- or allow identity thieves to capture their personal information. Legitimate financial institutions do not call or e-mail customers for this type of information. Customers who are worried about a pending charge should contact the service provider or bank directly;
Deleting the phony text message