July 24, 2023

What is smishing? How to stay safe from scam texts

What is smishing? How to stay safe from scam texts

In the fight against spam and scams, it’s critical to know your enemies and their strategies. Smishing is a form of phishing (which we’ll get to shortly) that relies on text-based communication, luring targets into giving away their personal information. Unfortunately, it’s been a popular and effective method for scammers in recent years.

Scam texts have far surpassed scam calls as the most dangerous type of phone scam, costing United States consumers over $20 billion in losses in 2022 — a 157% increase over the previous year. What’s worse, text scams continue to trend upward; Americans received 14.2 billion spam texts in June 2023, which was two billion more than in June 2022.

Smishing is a prominent tactic used in phone scams, so knowing how to stay safe is important. Here we’ll discuss the types of smishing, how to identify and protect yourself from smishing attacks, and what to do if you’ve been targeted. Read on to learn all about what smishing is and how you can protect yourself and your family from text scams.

Phishing vs. smishing

Between phishing, smishing, and the many other variations of scam tactics, the terminology can get confusing. All scam tactics are used to achieve the same goal — to steal personal information, money, or assets — but are employed in different ways. What are smishing and phishing? Read ahead to find out.

What is phishing?

Phishing is when scammers attempt to extract personal details by pretending to be someone else. They aim to steal information like usernames, passwords, and bank account numbers by impersonating well-known businesses or government agencies. Phishing scams may involve emails, text messages, or phone calls.

What is smishing?

The term “smishing” is a combination of SMS (Short Message Service, or texting) and phishing. It refers to phishing attacks through text messages, which may use malicious links and social engineering to reveal sensitive information. Smishing scams often make use of spoofed websites, which can look convincingly like the legitimate sites they copy.

What is pharming?

Pharming is a little different from phishing and smishing, but it’s often used in combination with the two. While it uses spoofed websites to trick people into giving away their information, it does so by manipulating their web browser and directing them to a spoofed version of the domain they thought they were visiting. The fake website will then trigger a malware download or prompt the target to unwittingly input their personal information right into the scammer’s database.

How do they differ?

Phishing, smishing, and pharming are all means to the same end, but they’re not all the same thing. Here is an example of how each of them works:

  • Phishing: A scammer disguised as PayPal sends you an email claiming that you need to change your password. You send them your login credentials, which the scammer steals to sell on the dark web or break into your account.
  • Smishing: You get a text claiming to come from UPS and telling you there’s a package waiting for you. It prompts you to click a link to update your delivery preferences, but the link triggers a malware download that gives scammers access to your device.
  • Pharming: You receive a potential fraud alert text that appears to be from your bank and includes a link to a spoofed version of their website. The scammer picks up your login or financial information and uses it to take money from your account. In some cases, cybercriminals can even pharm targets who type a legitimate web address directly into their browser.

If you receive a text message with a link to a fake website that asks for your personal or financial information, the attack may qualify as phishing, smishing, and pharming.

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Types of smishing

Since we use different types of devices to communicate by text, smishing can take on several forms. Keep an eye out for potential smishing scams on all types of devices and platforms.

Text phishing

Smishing is a type of cell phone phishing that targets people by some form of text, often via their text message inboxes. These SMS phishing ploys may include harmful links, spoofed websites, or instructions to submit private information.

Instant messaging phishing

Although the name technically refers to SMS messages, many smishing attacks occur on other messaging platforms. From social media apps like Snapchat to dedicated messaging services like WhatsApp, any service that allows messaging may be vulnerable to smishing.

Common smishing attacks

Although they always think of new angles, smishers tend to use the same types of plots and ploys to get information out of their targets. If you familiarize yourself with the common types of smishing attacks, you’ll be able to spot and reject them right away.

Financial smishing

Some scammers impersonate government agencies and financial institutions, immediately establishing an air of authority and seriousness. These types of smishing attacks can be especially dangerous — if the attacker gets your account information, they can drain your funds and even open up new lines of credit in your name.

Example: An imposter sends you a text that looks like it’s from your bank, notifying you of potential fraud and prompting you to input your account information.

Gift smishing

One of the oldest phishing tricks in the book, gift smishing is the text-message version of the “You have won!” scams you’ve probably gotten in your email or voicemail inbox. They generally claim you’ve won a gift card, sweepstakes, or hot commodity like the latest phone or video game system. Unfortunately, if you don’t recall entering a contest, it’s probably a safe bet that you didn’t win. In the end, it was just a scammer who wanted your information.

Example: You receive a text message from Amazon saying you won a gift card with a phony link to supposedly redeem your prize, which downloads malware onto your device when clicked.

Invoice or order confirmation smishing

It can be a shock to receive an invoice or order confirmation from a transaction you don’t remember, but don’t be too quick to click the link. Scammers will try to get you to act quickly to avoid late fees, penalties, or tarnished relationships. However, take the time to verify that any invoice or confirmation notice is legitimate first.

Example: A scammer disguised as PayPal sends a text about an order you didn’t place, so you click the embedded link to find out how to solve the issue, leading to a spoofed website that steals your login information.

Customer support smishing

If there’s been a problem with your account with any legitimate company, their support team will likely try to contact you. Customer support smishing attacks impersonate well-known companies and claim they’ve detected unusual activity, fraud, or another issue that you’d want to correct right away. The scammer might direct you to a spoofed website or simply ask for your information.

Example: You get a text message from Best Buy claiming your account has been compromised and prompting you to send your login credentials to reset your password.

How to identify smishing attacks

Smishing attacks can be dangerous, but it’s much easier to shut them down when you know what to look for. The sooner you identify a smishing attack, the more likely you are to get out of it unscathed. 

Common signs of a smishing message

Keep an eye out for these smishing red flags:

  • Requests for personal information like credit card numbers, bank account information, or login details
  • Sense of urgency or pressure to act before you can think about what you’re doing
  • Suspicious links in text messages, especially those with hyphens and other symbols
  • Text messages from unfamiliar numbers that claim to be a person, company, or entity you know
  • Unusual or non-native characters like å, ç, ë in the body of the text

The dangers of falling victim to smishing

If you don’t know how to protect yourself from smishing attacks, you could find yourself losing money, property, or even your identity. The consequences of being targeted by smishing can be severe and long-lasting.

Financial and identity theft consequences

Americans lose billions of dollars per year to text scams. According to the FTC, the median amount lost per text scam is about $1,000. However, some scams are much more severe; with the right information, fraudsters can drain your bank account, open up credit cards in your name, and take over your identity.

Psychological and emotional impacts

Even long after a smishing scam, the psychological and emotional impacts may be significant. Recovering from serious financial damage or identity theft can be a long and painstaking process, and you might not get your money back at all. That’s why it’s crucial to understand how to protect your privacy and avoid becoming a victim of smishing.

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How to protect yourself from smishing attacks

Smishing attacks might sound scary, but they’re relatively harmless if you know how to handle them. Fortunately, there are ways you can keep scammers off your phone and steps you can take to protect yourself if you are targeted.

Security measures for your mobile device

The best way to protect yourself from smishing attacks is to stop them from reaching your phone, tablet, or laptop. Try these tips to improve security on your mobile device:

  • Keep your antivirus software updated on any device you use for texting.
  • Set up two-factor authentication to log in to your accounts.
  • Update your phone regularly to take advantage of spam- and scam-blocking updates.
  • Use complex passwords that are more difficult to crack.

Best practices for handling suspicious messages

If you do get a message that you suspect is a smishing scam, knowing how to react can save you and your family a great deal of trouble:

  • Ignore. Don’t answer suspicious messages, or the scammer will know that your number is active.
  • Block. Block the number that sent you the message.
  • Report. Notify your voice service provider or appropriate authority about the smishing attack.

Third-party apps

Tightening up security and learning how to handle suspicious messages can help protect you and your family from smishing attacks. However, a third-party spam-blocking app can bolster your coverage by blocking scammers in real-time. If the smishing attack never even makes it to your phone, there’s no threat to your security.

What to do if you've been a victim of smishing

The effects of a smishing attack might not come to light immediately. If you’re worried that you’ve been a victim of smishing, don’t wait to do something about it.

Reporting smishing incidents

When you report smishing incidents to the appropriate authorities, you take an active role in the war against spam. Phone carriers and government agencies can add known scammers to their blocklists — at least on the numbers they contacted you from.

Recovering from financial and identity theft

If you suspect you may have been targeted by a scam, it’s crucial to take immediate action. Change your passwords, check your financial statements, and contact your bank or credit card company to determine if you should cancel your cards. Recovering your money or identity can be difficult, but changing your credentials right away can prevent scammers from doing even more damage.

Protect yourself against smishing

Now that you know what smishing is and how to protect yourself from attacks, all you need is a third-party spam blocker. Losing your personal data to scammers can yield severe consequences that might take years to remedy. However, the right third-party app blocks spam and scam texts from ever causing a problem.

Robokiller is 99% effective in blocking smishing attempts and spam calls and has prevented more than $600 million in losses to phone scams in America. Our customizable features allow you to block out scams without missing the texts and calls you actually want to receive.

Are you ready to put an end to smishing? Download your free 7-day trial of Robokiller now to secure your privacy, identity, and peace of mind.


What does smishing mean?

Smishing is a combination of SMS and phishing. It refers to a tactic whereby scammers use malicious links and social engineering to steal personal information.

What is an example of smishing?

You receive a text from an unknown number posing as your bank. It claims they’ve noticed unusual activity in your account and tells you to tap the enclosed link to enter your account information and change your password. You enter your information into a spoofed website, giving the scammer access to your account.

What are the differences between smishing and phishing?

Smishing is a specific type of phishing that uses text messaging (or other messaging apps). Phishing is the act of stealing someone’s personal information using voice, text, or email.

What happens if you click on a smishing text?

While opening a smishing text isn’t inherently dangerous, clicking a link in one is. If you’ve opened a smishing text, block and report it right away. Never follow links in messages from unknown senders — if you click one by accident, close the browser immediately.

What are the red flags for smishing?

Smishing attacks come with many of the same warning signs, including a sense of urgency, requests for personal information, and texting from an unknown number. Never give personal information away over text without verifying who you’re talking to, and never tap the link if you don’t recognize the sender.

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