August 2, 2023

Wrong-number text scams exposed: What you need to know

Wrong-number text scams exposed: What you need to know

While agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) work to eliminate caller ID spoofing, robocalling, and other tactics favored by con artists, wrong-number text scams are finding success without the help of these technology-based methods. These scammers simply pretend that reaching their target was an innocent mistake, and they use this cover to rob their targets blind.

Americans are inundated with text message scams, with an average of over 10 billion spam and scam texts per month in the first half of 2023. Wrong-number text scams are just one type, but they’re an especially sneaky iteration of a constantly growing threat.

Read ahead and learn how to identify and protect yourself from wrong-number text scams.

How does a wrong-number text scam work?

Wrong-number text scams share some similarities with other types of text scams, but they take a slightly different approach. By understanding the process and the intentions of the scammer, you’re less likely to fall for their tricks.

Step-by-step process of the scammer

Although the details may vary, here’s the general framework of a wrong-number scam:

  1. Getting your number. The scammer finds your number on the internet, purchases it from the dark web, or types it at random.
  2. Breaking the ice. You receive an innocuous message from someone who appears to have the wrong number, often asking a question or simply saying, “Hi!”
  3. Engaging in a conversation. Once you respond, the scammer apologizes for texting the “wrong number” and strikes up a friendly conversation.
  4. Moving to a different messaging service. After a relationship has been developed, the scammer tries to get you to move the conversation to Telegram or another messaging service. (They may send a link to another messaging app, which could trigger a malware download.)
  5. Making the pitch. Eventually, the scammer makes their pitch to get personal or financial information. These scammers are very patient and may send hundreds or thousands of texts over weeks or months before finally making their pitch. Scammers will likely make their pitch whether or not you follow them to a different messaging platform.
  6. Stealing from the target. Depending on what kind of information the scammer was able to procure, they can blackmail you, drain your bank accounts, or even commit identity theft.

Common variations of the wrong-number text scam

Wrong-number text scams may follow a common layout, but there are various ways scammers can bring the above steps to life. This type of scam generally presents targets with an opportunity (often financial or romantic) or appeals to their sense of community and good nature.

Investment opportunity

Scammers who employ the “wrong number” tactic often try to coerce their targets into investing in some kind of fake opportunity that might sound — and always is — too good to be true. Many of these scams involve cryptocurrency, which is a buzzword that the average person associates with money but may not truly understand, leaving plenty of room for deception. Once the victim has invested their money, there’s no way to get it back.


In other cases, scammers may try to get to your wallet through your heart. Some wrong-number text scammers aim to entice their potential victims into a fake romantic relationship using fabricated personas, stolen photographs, and artificial voices. Romance scams might trick targets into sending gifts or transferring money, and in some cases they might solicit compromising photos that they can use as blackmail.

Help with an emergency

Sometimes wrong-number texts create serious (but fake) situations, possibly involving a sick family member or a missing pet. Scammers bank on their distress being enough to encourage the target to try to help, even though they don’t know the person. With their guard down, the target might reveal seemingly harmless personal details that the scammer can use to steal from them.

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Common tactics and techniques used by wrong-number text scammers

Many phone scams use tactics like caller ID spoofing and fake outstanding balances to create a sense of authority as well as urgency, but others operate a little differently. Wrong-number text scams tend to take a friendlier approach, and the criminals behind them may be surprisingly patient.

These are a few tactics and techniques that wrong-number text scammers might use:

  • Generic greetings that can apply to anyone
  • Positive, appreciative, and engaging tones
  • Long conversations before pitching the scheme (in contrast to the time pressure of similar scams)
  • Romantic gestures (or even phony long-distance relationships as part of the scam)

The tactics may be different, but the ultimate goal is the same: to acquire any sensitive information the scammer can use to steal something of value.

How to recognize and prevent wrong-number text scams

Like other phone scams, wrong-number text scams generally include certain red flags that can tip you off to the ploy. The better you are at recognizing these scams, the less dangerous they are when you face them.

Text scam warning signs to watch out for

Text message scams generally include some combination of warning signs, though they’re not always easy to spot.

Watch out for these red flags in your text message inbox:

  • Grammatical errors
  • Misspelled words
  • Unsolicited messages from unknown numbers
  • Unusual or non-native characters (like å, ē, ø)

While these signs don’t necessarily guarantee a scam, it’s helpful to keep them in mind when you’re assessing whether or not a message is suspicious.

Examples of wrong-number text scams

Wrong-number text scams attempt to get you involved in a conversation, usually opening with an innocent greeting or question that appears to be intended for someone else.

For example:

  • “Hi Tom, it’s Travis. Are we still on for lessons on Thursday?”
  • “Hey, turns out we’re opening late tomorrow. Enjoy the morning off!”
  • “Mom is sick and having issues with her insurance. Can you be here by Friday?”

In each case, it appears that the sender is trying to deliver an important message to someone. Their goal is to manipulate you into letting them know they have the “wrong number” so they can thank you for your help and start an entirely different conversation. Unfortunately, that conversation always ends in attempted fraud.

What to do if you receive a suspicious text

Getting a suspicious text can be unnerving, but if you know how to handle the situation, you can get out of it without losing your assets, money, or identity. Learning how to identify a fake text message will help you keep your composure and put your mind at ease.

If you receive a suspicious text, follow these tips:

  • Don’t respond to texts from unknown numbers, even if they appear harmless
  • Delete and report texts that seem suspicious, then block the numbers they came from
  • Never click or tap links in a text message from an unknown number

If you’ve given away personal information:

  • Change your passwords
  • Check your financial statements and, if necessary, call your financial institutions
  • Report scams, data breaches, and fraud to the appropriate authorities
  • If you’ve been defrauded, call your local law enforcement and a lawyer

How to avoid them and protect yourself

Knowing how to handle phone scams like wrong-number texts can prevent you from falling victim to their consequences. However, education and awareness can only go so far — you’ll need a third-party scam-blocking app to round out your defenses and secure your peace of mind. A strong spam blocker like Robokiller shuts down spam calls and texts before they can even reach your phone.

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There are many spam and scam blockers on the market, but one stands out from the rest as the most comprehensive and effective solution to phone scams: Robokiller.

Here are just a few of the top highlights from Robokiller’s impressive resume:

  • 99% effective at blocking scam calls and spam texts
  • $600+ million in prevented losses to phone scams
  • 1.5 billion flagged phone numbers in our global database
  • Fully customizable features
  • Real-time audio fingerprinting thanks to cutting-edge technology that includes artificial intelligence and machine learning

Experience these benefits and start living life spam-call-free™ when you start your free 7-day trial of Robokiller.

Frequently asked questions

What is a wrong-number text scam?

A wrong-number text scam is any scam in which it seems like someone has accidentally texted you instead of the person they meant to reach out to, generally with a basic greeting or reminder about fake plans. Through patience and social engineering, the scammer ultimately tries to steal personal data like your Social Security number, credit card information, or other sensitive details.

How does it work?

Wrong-number text scams start off with harmless messages that are meant to get the target to respond with something like “Sorry, wrong number.” After apologizing, the scammer will strike up a conversation that may last for days, weeks, or even months before they pitch their scheme. Eventually, they will try to get you to invest in their fake cryptocurrency “opportunity” or otherwise solicit private information they can use to steal from you.

Why do I get random wrong-number texts?

There are many ways your phone number might fall into the wrong hands, especially if you list it on your website, within your social media profiles, or elsewhere online. Even if you’re careful with your number, however, scammers might choose your 10 digits at random. No matter how scammers get hold of your phone number, responding to them can be dangerous.

Is it safe to respond to a text from an unknown number?

Simply put, no. Even a simple response to a seemingly innocuous text message can be dangerous, as it proves to the scammer that your number is in use. That means your number is valuable to them, as they can sell it on the dark web or use it to continue trying to scam you in the future, keeping you an active target indefinitely.

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