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Pocketstop Blog

What is Smishing?

5 minute read - Posted by Daniel Wagstaff on Oct 2, 2019 8:54:00 AM

Modern technology has made communication a cakewalk. It is now possible to connect with anyone and everyone at the click of a button. Emails, instant messaging apps, SMS - you have a plethora of options to choose from. However, there is a serious downside to this.

The very technology that helps you stay connected also puts your privacy and security at risk. Cybercriminals are always on the lookout to steal crucial data such as your credit card information and Social Security Number. Phishing is a widely used tactic used by them to obtain such information. Smishing, a close cousin of phishing, has also been on the rise and poses a serious threat for consumers and businesses.

Here is everything you need to know about smishing:

Understanding Smishing

Have you ever received an SMS message asking you to update your credit card details urgently? Perhaps you have received a text message that says you have been chosen as the winner of a contest you never entered? Further, the message even asks you to click on a link to claim your prize you don't remember competing for. If you have experienced any of this, you have been tricked by the newest form of phishing - smishing.

Understanding Smishing

Image via Cnet

The term “smishing” is a portmanteau derived from “SMS” and “phishing.” Simply put, it is a form of phishing that uses SMS or text messages instead of email. Cybercriminals send SMS messages to your phone and trick you into submitting crucial personal information. They often use email-to-text services or mass SMS marketing software to avoid revealing their true identity.

Legitimate text message marketing solutions only permit users to be added and marketed to through a double opt-in process in accordance with current regulations. However, less credible SMS marketing software vendors allow you to add anyone without their knowledge or consent creating an opportunity for hackers and scammers to leverage.

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How Smishing Works

There are two ways in which smishing manifests itself:

  1. You receive an urgent text message from a legitimate source such as a bank or credit card company. The message informs you that you need to update your personal details; otherwise, your account/credit card will expire. It also includes a website URL or phone number that you can use to verify your details. This link or phone number is accessed by cybercriminals to obtain your data.
  2. You receive a text message that contains a link to an attachment. The moment you click on this link, malware gets installed on your phone. This gives cybercriminals complete access to your phone and even allows them to control it. They can obtain crucial private information such as your ATM PIN or banking username and password.
How Smishing Works

Image via GazetteLive

Why Smishing is Dangerous

Are you wondering what scammers would do with your private information? To begin with, if they get access to your credit card details, they can steal your money. Additionally, they can use your personal information to obtain credit cards under your name. If these cards are used for fraudulent activities, you may be on the hook for these charges.

The key difference between phishing and smishing is that people tend to put their guard down while using their phones. It is also easier to identify a suspicious email than a malicious text message. Moreover, mobile phone users are often on the move and don’t think twice before clicking on a link. In today’s busy world, this makes smishing a more serious threat than phishing.

It is also important to point out that mobile phone users often store crucial information on their phones. You may have saved your credit card details on certain apps. You might even share critical passwords with a trusted contact via an instant messaging app. This makes it even easier for cybercriminals to access private information on your phone.

Nowadays, many people also store work-related information on their phones. Moreover, they use their phones to check work emails and communicate with their coworkers. This gives cybercriminals access to a goldmine of vital private data. Imagine what scammers could do if they got access to the details of your company’s bank account?

Smishing is as dangerous for individuals as it is for businesses. What makes it a more serious threat is the huge prevalence of mobile phones. Additionally, texting is often a preferred mode of communication among millennials and Gen Z. It is thus essential for mobile phone users to take suitable precautions to safeguard themselves against smishing.

Tips to Protect Yourself from Smishing

If you don’t want to be a victim of smishing, you must first understand the psychology behind why it works. Scammers leverage social engineering to trick you into submitting critical information. They win your trust by disguising themselves as a trusted source such as your bank, credit card company, or a merchant.

The best way to safeguard yourself against smishing is to not step into this trap. In other words, don’t do anything at all. If you even remotely suspect that a text message is malicious, don’t open it. If the message asks you to click on a link, don’t do it. If it asks for your personal details, don’t reply.

This is the simplest way of protecting yourself from smishing. However, this requires you to be extremely attentive to the text messages you send and receive. Cybercriminals often tend to catch you off guard when you are not paying attention.

Here are a few extra precautions you should take:

  • A bank or merchant will never ask you to submit important personal information online. If you receive any such message, contact the bank or merchant on their customer helpline number.
  • If a message from an unknown sender contains a website link, don’t click on it. Even when you receive a website link from a legitimate contact, call them to validate the sender’s identity. If they deny sending the link, don’t click on it.
  • Beware of text messages sent from suspicious numbers such as “5000”. Such messages are likely sent by scammers using email-to-text services.
  • If you receive an SMS message about credit card validity, extra charges, etc., directly contact the credit card company. Even if the message mentions a contact number, check the company’s website to see if it is their official customer helpline.
  • Be extremely cautious of messages that provoke a sense of urgency. They usually lure you with limited period offers and lucrative coupons.
  • Never save crucial personal and work-related information on your phone. This includes ATM pins, credit card details, email passwords, etc.

Conclusion

The rise of mobile phones and text messaging has made smishing a serious threat to online security. While most SMS messages from unknown senders are harmless, even one malicious text can cause catastrophic repercussions. The increased use of mobile phones for work-related communication further increases the risk of smishing.

The best way to protect yourself from smishing is to avoid text messages from unknown and suspicious senders. Exercise caution while divulging personal information on the phone; always make it a point to validate the sender’s identity. Finally, as a safety measure, avoid storing important personal and business details on your phone.

Have you ever been a victim of smishing? What steps did you take to protect yourself from subsequent attacks? Share your views in the comments section below.

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