Table of contentsIntroductionWhat are spam texts?How can I tell if a text message is spam?Why am I getting spam texts?What’s being done to fight the spam problem?How to stop getting spam textsProtect yourself from spam texts with Robokiller
Table of contents
Whether life imitates art or vice versa, we can rest assured that scammers imitate culture. With texting becoming the preferred method of communication for most Americans, scammers have taken their ploys to the inbox. Between SMS texting and the many social media apps and digital messaging services we use today, they’ve stumbled upon a whole new frontier for fraud.
Although we’ve made strides in fighting back against spam calls, we now face an additional threat in spam texts. The good news is that, while there are several key differences between spam text and spam call protection, there are also many overlapping themes and solutions — like education, awareness, and dedicated spam blocking apps.
One unfortunate but expected similarity between spam calls and spam texts is that they’re both growing rapidly and continuously. However, the spam text trajectory appears especially threatening, and there aren’t as many pieces in place to mitigate it. In 2022, Americans were hit with more than 225 billion robotexts (we’ll discuss the difference between robotexts and spam texts in a bit), which is more than 2.5 times the 87 billion robotexts sent by scammers in 2021.
Like spam calls, spam texts can be dangerous for consumers and businesses alike. According to our research, the worst may be yet to come. Fortunately, there are ways to defend ourselves against spam texts, and the first step is understanding the problem.
Let’s take a deeper look into the spam text problem and discuss why you’re getting them, why they’re dangerous, and most importantly, how to stop them for good.
First, let’s tackle the basics: What exactly are spam texts?
Spam texts are unsolicited texts that generally come from an unknown sender, often to steal from the target. Although some spam texts are annoying but legal (like most political messages), others are illegal and inherently dangerous — the latter typically come from criminals.
Many text spammers use a technique called smishing (a mashup of “SMS” and “phishing”), in which they include links that either download harmful malware onto the person’s device or send them to an imposter website where the person is prompted to enter their personal information — which goes right to the criminal behind the scheme. In either case, falling victim to spam texts like these can lead to severe consequences.
Smishing — a mashup of “SMS” and “phishing” — is a form of phishing where someone tries to trick you into giving them your private information via SMS.
Although they’re sometimes used interchangeably, terms like spam, scams, and robotexts don’t all mean exactly the same thing.
As we discussed, spam texts are unwanted messages, usually from numbers you don’t recognize. However, sometimes a text may be “spammy” and annoying without actually being illegal or dangerous (like political texts).
A spam text is dangerous when it introduces a scam, like a smishing scheme or another attempt to steal your personal information, money, or other valuables — which makes it both a spam text and a scam. Scams are always dangerous and illegal.
Robotexts are texts sent using an autodialer or other electronic means, and they can be spam, scams, or neither. As with robocalls, robotexts are generally only legal if the recipient has given their consent to be contacted in that way, like when you sign up for notifications, reminders, or promotional opportunities.
Realistically, there’s a great deal of overlap between these three terms. For the purposes of this article, we generally use the phrase “spam texts” to represent illegal scams being perpetrated through text-based platforms, whether the message came from an autodialer or human fingers. These are the types of messages that people need to protect themselves from.
Spam texts are on the rise, but so is the use of text messaging from legitimate businesses. How can you tell if you should be suspicious? There are a few key warning signs that suggest a text might be spam:
1. Lack of consent: Legitimate businesses are legally required to get your permission to text you, and they may face penalties for not complying. If you get an unsolicited text claiming to be from a well-known business, chances are it’s actually a scammer.
2. Sense of urgency: Spam texts may try to get you to take immediate action, like buying something, sharing information, making an account, or clicking a link. They may even threaten consequences for not doing so, which is a double red flag.
3. Spelling errors or grammatical mistakes: Errors may be included on purpose to avoid spam filters, or they may simply be mistakes made by scammers who are not native English speakers. Many spam calls and texts come from foreign countries where English is not the primary language.
4. Strange-looking URLs: A link in a spam text may look unusual, like a suspiciously long URL or a shortened one with strange characters. Scam URLs may also include oddly placed hyphens or trick characters (like å instead of a) in an attempt to imitate legitimate websites.
If you get a random text, think before you react — even if it appears to be from someone you trust. Refrain from clicking links, as any scammer can register a domain similar to the domain of a trusted brand, government department, or other entity and build a website that looks just like the real thing. These common tactics are easy to spot if you know what to look for, but they can be dangerously effective if you don’t.
A call or text from an unknown number that shares your area code might not actually have local origins — it could be a scammer targeting you with a tactic known as caller ID spoofing.
Caller ID spoofing (or simply spoofing) is when scammers disguise their numbers by manipulating the reading on your caller ID, often imitating local numbers or legitimate businesses and services. Spoofing works for both phone calls and text messages, and it’s been a major obstacle in the fight against spam.
Legitimate businesses often use SMS short codes (abbreviated numbers that look different from standard phone numbers) when they communicate with customers via text, which can also be spoofed — so don’t count them out immediately just because they don’t look like regular phone numbers, but approach them with the same level of caution.
In a slightly different sense, spoofing is when scammers create fake websites that look nearly identical to actual businesses’ websites, hoping you’ll be tricked into entering your personal information. This tactic is often used in conjunction with caller ID spoofing. This way, a criminal may use a spoofed number to send you a link to a spoofed website.
Receiving a text from a number with your same area code does not mean it’s from a local number — a scammer could be spoofing their number to engage you in a text scam.
Caller ID spoofing is when the actual number that’s being called from is disguised, and instead, a different number shows on your caller ID. The technology lets spammers alter the information that’s forwarded to your caller ID to display a phone number that appears local. Caller ID spoofing works for both phone calls and text messages on your smartphone.
There are many types of spam texts, and the more the spammer knows about you — like your email address, neighborhood, or salary — the more they can tailor the scam to your life. Fortunately, the more you know about spam texts, the better prepared you are to stop them in their tracks.
Some popular types of spam texts to be aware of include:
1. Invoices that instruct you to reply or follow a link if you didn’t authorize the purchase
2. Phony package delivery notifications
3. Contests, gift cards, coupons, or other fake prizes
4. Illegitimate credit card offers
5. Student loan debt relief scams
Don’t automatically assume that text you just received is from a brand you trust. Even unsophisticated scammers can register a domain that's very close to the domain of a trusted brand, and they can build a website that looks identical to the brand's website.
Even if you’re meticulously careful with your personal information, there are many ways for scammers to get their hands on your phone number. Some of the reasons you may be getting unwanted text messages include:
Your were targeted because your number is publicly available.
Many people display their phone numbers on social media profiles, forums, and other web pages that anyone can view, which is a risky practice when it comes to avoiding spam.
You were autodialed.
Sometimes spam texting is completely random. Spammers use autodialing services that send texts to any phone number they can find — including yours.
Your information was exposed in a data breach.
Your phone number (and other sensitive information) may have been exposed during a data breach. Keep track of your accounts and look out for reports on data breaches at banks, financial institutions, or any other entities that might have your personal information.
Your number was sold.
If your phone number falls into the hands of one bad actor, it may be circulated to many. Some scammers make their money by selling phone numbers to other scammers. This information may be lifted from sign-up forms for giveaways, mailing lists, and other online documents.
Your number is on a list because you've answered in the past.
If you’ve previously responded to a spam call or scam text — even if you thought you were “opting out” — the scammer who targeted you will likely continue to pester you in the future. If you have read receipts turned on, merely opening a spam text may be enough to let the sender know your number is active.
With texting becoming a favored alternative to phone calls, scammers have taken full advantage of the paradigm shift; since it’s cheaper and easier to send spam texts than spam calls, fraudsters are all the more enabled to pull their scams. That’s why it’s become even more important to understand the dangers we’re up against.
Although spam calls are still rampant, obstacles like spam blockers and legislation have forced scammers to be more creative in how they reach their targets. Unfortunately, they’ve only found more success with their new text-based ploys.
Here’s a brief statistical look at the effect spam texts had on Americans throughout last year:
Spam texts are already wreaking havoc in the United States, and the problem is expected to get worse before it gets better. With the spam call problem still looming, the war against spam is in full swing.
Spam texts may be more fruitful for scammers (and dangerous for the rest of us) in a number of ways. This is because spam texts:
Are more affordable. Spam texts are cheaper and easier to make than spam phone calls, making them a viable alternative for scammers of any kind.
Can target all of a person’s devices. The same script can target your iPhone, iPad, laptop, or any other device you use to check your messages.
Infiltrate all kinds of messaging services. Spam texts can be sent anywhere between SMS group chats and emails, social media platforms like Facebook and Snapchat, and other messaging services like WhatsApp.
Include smishing links. Perhaps most importantly, spam texts can include harmful smishing links that install malware or lead to fake websites. Scammers can’t trick you into clicking a link on a phone call.
With scammers’ risks being lowered and the potential jackpots growing even larger, it’s no wonder these types of criminals have taken full advantage of spam texts.
It’s not just consumers who have to worry about their privacy, money, and identity being threatened by spammers because legitimate businesses are vulnerable to the same dangers. In fact, a company may have significantly more assets to lose than a single person. Additionally, spam texts can notably affect the relationship between real businesses and their customers.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way our society operates, and social distancing led to an emphasis on digital communications between businesses and their patrons. That means everyone from local bakeries to world-famous brands began to lean on texting more than ever, using it to confirm orders, offer promotions, and assist customers. Unsurprisingly, scammers noticed this change in dynamic, and they’ve seized the opportunity to cause chaos.
Since many scammers act as legitimate businesses, spam texts can be especially problematic for the companies that are being impersonated. If a customer has a negative interaction with a scammer that they believe represents your legitimate business, they may continue to harbor negative opinions about your company — even if they later find out you had nothing to do with it. Once a business’s reputation is called into question, it may be difficult to regain customers’ trust.
Fortunately, top spam blockers like Robokiller offer comprehensive solutions for businesses and consumers alike.
Spam has been a top priority for entities like the FTC and FCC for years. Unfortunately, while we’ve been trying to get ahead of spam calls, we’re a few steps further behind their SMS counterparts. Although the same rules that apply to spam calls also apply to spam texts, they may not be as effective or enforceable.
Here’s a brief overview of some of the steps we’ve taken in the overarching fight against spam:
In 1991, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) went into law. The TCPA was designed to regulate telemarketing and has been amended as needed over the years, including the creation of the National Do Not Call Registry.
In 2019, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act was passed. This legislation cracked down on spam and provided tools to authenticate caller ID information across different networks.
Between 2020 and 2023, Secure Telephone Identity Revisited/Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information using toKENs (STIR/SHAKEN) was unveiled. STIR/SHAKEN is a set of interconnected frameworks introduced by the TRACED Act to reduce spam and improve caller ID authentication (effectively cracking down on spoofing).
In 2023, Project Point of No Entry (PoNE) was unveiled, a plan by the FTC to stop spam calls that originate overseas from being routed through American voice networks.
While it’s great to see that action is being taken to fight the spam problem, these efforts were designed primarily to fight spam calls, not spam texts. These laws may ultimately slow dangerous and unwanted calls, but spam texts remain a growing concern.
In the meantime, it’s crucial to install a reputable spam text blocker like Robokiller and learn how to protect yourself from the countless types of text scams you might see on any given day.
What is the FCC’s STIR/SHAKEN?
After the U.S. Congress enacted the TRACED (Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence) Act in 2019 to give the FCC new tools to fight unwanted and illegal robocalls, the FCC wanted to go one step further.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, the FCC has proposed that all voice service providers implement the STIR/SHAKEN solution in the Internet Protocol (IP) portions of their networks. The acronyms stand for:
STIR: Secure Telephony Identity Revisited
SHAKEN: Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information using toKENs
What the solution proposes is that calls traveling through phone networks must have their caller ID “signed” as legitimate by originating carriers and validated by other carriers before reaching consumers. This helps deter spoofed calls from ever reaching their end destination, and gives people more confidence that the caller ID information they’re seeing is accurate.
Spam texts are annoying but can be harmless if you know how to handle them. They only become dangerous when you fall into the sender’s trap and give away information that can be used to steal from you.
Here’s what you should and shouldn’t do if you receive a spam text:
Sometimes you don’t realize you’ve received a smishing link until you’ve already clicked it. If you’ve clicked on a link in what may have been a spam text, do not give out any personal information or enter any login credentials on the website you’re redirected to.
Instead, disconnect from the internet, report the text to your carrier, and block the number. If the spam text spoofed a real company, change your login information with the actual company and consider reaching out to their support team to make sure your account is secure — and to let them know a scammer is posing as their brand.
Spammers will do whatever it takes to get your private information, and they’re constantly devising new ways to do it. But there are steps you can take to reduce your vulnerability to spam texts and fight back against scammers.
Although it’s far from a perfect solution, filtering out messages from unknown numbers using your native phone settings can effectively prevent spam texts. If you set your phone to block text messages from all unknown numbers, however, keep in mind that you will only be able to receive messages from those you have saved in your contacts.
Here’s how to filter spam texts on iPhone:
1. Go to Settings and then Messages
2. Scroll down to find Message Filtering
3. Toggle Filter Unknown Senders
With this setting turned on, all messages from unknown senders will be filtered out of your inbox and into a separate list. It also restricts you from opening any links that appear in messages sent from unknown numbers.
Here’s how to filter spam texts on Android devices:
1. Access the Messages app
2. Tap the three-dot icon
3. Select Settings and then Spam Protection
4. Toggle Enable spam protection
Again, it should be noted that these are more sweeping actions that don’t come with the customization options offered by spam text blockers like Robokiller.
If you suspect you’ve received a spam text, ignore it and block the sender. Unless you know you’re being contacted by a legitimate company, never respond to a suspicious text, even to opt out. Instead, report spam texts so the carrier can investigate.
The National Do Not Call Registry is a database that restricts legitimate telemarketing companies from contacting you by phone or text. But, as we’ve seen, scammers don’t follow the law, so this will only prevent texts from legitimate businesses.
Education and preparation are critical in the fight against spam. Still, nothing is as game-changing as a comprehensive spam blocking app like Robokiller. These apps are designed to ensure annoying and dangerous spam texts never make it to your inbox in the first place.
Here's how to protect yourself against spam texts with Robokiller:
Robokiller uses a proprietary algorithm to analyze every text message for its origin phone number, content, and attachments, then determines whether it’s allowable or spam — all in less than a millisecond.
If Robokiller determines a message is spam, it will move spam messages to a special folder in your Messages app called “Unknown & Junk.” You can review these flagged messages anytime to make sure everything in there is definitely spam. You can also customize your settings to filter more aggressively, based on your needs.
Spam texts are becoming more popular every year. Not only are they annoying and illegal, but they can also be highly dangerous, leading to fraud, financial losses, and even identity theft. While we can’t eradicate spam texts (yet!), we can take back our privacy.
Robokiller uses a proprietary algorithm, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to analyze every text message for its origin, content, and attachments, then determines whether it’s safe or spam — all in less than a millisecond. If Robokiller determines a message is spam, it will move the text to a special folder in your Messages app called Unknown & Junk. You can also customize your filter settings to best suit your needs, and you can review flagged messages at any time.
Robokiller has been at the frontlines of the war against spam since the beginning, and we’re proud to support you with the tools you need to regain your privacy and peace of mind.
Try Robokiller free for 7 days.