Spam Texts 101: Everything You Need to Know to Stop Annoying SMS

We were already tired of spam calls. Now we have to deal with spam texts, too?

Sadly, spam calls have become an all-too regular part of life. And scammers are only getting smarter and sneakier.

Now, they’re infiltrating further with unwanted text messages.

More people have begun to understand how robocalls work, and how to ignore or block those calls, but fewer folks know how to stop getting spam texts. And it’s not just individuals who are vulnerable; when the pandemic hit, many businesses began including texting in their operations as a standard way to safely communicate with potential customers, making themselves susceptible to unsolicited SMS, too.

It’s not surprising that the spammers and robocallers found a new weak spot to attack. And boy, did they pounce: Americans received a total of 9.4 billion spam texts between January and April 2020 — an average monthly growth rate of more than 16%. Since April 2020, monthly spam SMS totals have risen by an average of 12% per month. In March 2021 alone, Americans received 7.4 billion spam texts, a 36% increase from the previous month.

This barrage of unwanted text messages shows no sign of slowing down. But fear not: There is hope. We can defend ourselves in the fight against spammers and scammers. The first step is arming ourselves with knowledge.

Let’s take a deeper look into these text scams and spam, why you’re getting them, how to report them, why they’re dangerous and, most importantly, how to stop getting spam texts.

What are spam texts?

First thing’s first: What exactly are spam texts?

Spam texts are unsolicited texts from an unknown sender. Also called “smishing” (a mashup of “SMS” and “phishing”), spam texts are sent by an attacker via text to get a person to click a malicious link and/or send private info.

Smishing

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.

Research shows that people tend to click or engage with texts more often, and that texting tends to be favored over calling. And, unfortunately, the latest technology makes it cheap and easy for scammers to send spam texts. Often, when you get a spam text, it’s a scammer trying to steal your personal information by providing a link to a spoofed website that installs malware or entices you to enter login and password information.

For example, you may be the recipient of a Wells Fargo text scam where you receive an SMS that there has been suspicious activity on your bank account with a link to a website to “learn more about the issue.” Or you may be the prey of an Amazon scam text that says there has been an issue with your payment method and ask for your credit card number or offer a link to a spoofed website to enter in personal information.

Pro tip

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.

If the spammer has information about you — such as how much money you make, your bank account information, or your social security number — they may also send a text scam in the form of:

  • A fake invoice that tells you to contact them if you didn’t authorize the purchase
  • A fake package delivery notification (read more about USPS text scams)

Other spam text message examples include:

  • Promises for free prizes, gift cards, or coupons
  • Statements that you’ve won a contest, gift card, free item, or money
  • Low or no interest credit card offers
  • Promises to help you pay off student loans
Fake spam text alerting the recipient of charges to their Amazon account.

These alerts and offers aren’t real: They’re trying to scare or excite you into ponying up private information like your name, address, social security number, and banking information so that they can sell it to marketers or identity thieves. Text scams try to strike a nerve so that you act before you think.

List of the most targeted states for spam. 1. Texas, 2. California, 3. New York.

How can I tell if a text message is spam?

Text scams are on the rise — but so is the use of text messaging from legitimate businesses. Legally, businesses must get your consent to send you texts. So how can you tell if that SMS is spam or not? There are a few key “tells” that a text is likely spam:

1. You don’t recall opting into the texts. Legitimate businesses have to get your permission to text you, and respect your decision if you opt out.

2. The text is trying to get you to take immediate action such as making a purchase, sharing info, making an account, or clicking a link — and threatening consequences for not doing so.

3. Spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. (This is often to avoid spam filters or because the sender is not a native speaker of your language.)

4. Strange-looking URLs. For example, it may be a shortened URL or a very long one with unusual characters. Symbols like “%” are often a warning sign that the original URL is encoded.

The lowdown on caller ID spoofing

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.

Why am I getting spam texts?

You might be thinking, “I don’t give out my phone number, and I’m careful with my private information. So why am I getting spam texts?”

Unfortunately, guarding your phone number doesn’t mean you aren’t susceptible to smishing. It’s actually completely random; it has nothing to do with your location, your age, or how long you’ve had your phone number.

Some of the reasons you may be getting unwanted text messages include:

Targeted

You were targeted.

A spammer got your number through social media or it was overshared through online forms like contest sign ups

Autodialed

You were autodialed.

Spammers use auto-dialing services that send texts to any phone number they can find.

Exposed

Your information was exposed.

Your phone number may have been exposed during a data breach.

sold

Your number was sold.

Sometimes, phone numbers are sold for profits by a third party.

list

Your number is on a list.

If you previously engaged with a call or text scam, your phone number might be on a list that scammers use.

Why are spam texts on the rise?

Spam texts have been on the rise for the last few years, and there are a few key causes for why text scams have gotten worse than ever. In large part, it’s because people prefer texting over phone calls.

Although robocallers and scammers still defraud many people every year through phone calls, it has become more challenging because of new technology like call blockers and STIR/SHAKEN (more on that later). So spammers had to find a new way in.

Unlike calls, texts are cheaper and easier to send, thousands can be sent at once, and they have a higher engagement rate than phone calls.

In fact:

  • 93% of consumers believe wireless messaging is a trusted communications environment.
  • 37% of consumers would rather text with a business than speak on the phone.
  • Customers are seven times more likely to text back after receiving a text than call back after receiving a voicemail.
  • Three out of five Millennials will reply with a text after declining a phone call.
  • Millennials are more than twice as likely as Gen Xers to reply to an unknown sender's text, and four times more likely to respond to a text message than call back to a voicemail.
  • Among marketers, SMS is one of the most-adopted mobile marketing tactics, and 56% of organizations say their mobile messaging apps perform well for improving customer engagement.
  • Gartner predicts that by 2025, 80% of customer service organizations will have abandoned native mobile apps in favor of text messaging for a better customer experience.

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.

Although STIR/SHAKEN is a step in the right direction and has created more hurdles for spam callers to jump through, it has also prompted spammers to home in on a new medium: texting.

Texting requires less action of a recipient than a phone call, and a scammer can still end up with the same private information. It’s even easy to get people to accidentally engage; for example, responding STOP or QUIT to a text scam to “opt out” actually lets scammers know someone is at the end of that number, which can lead to more spam texts.

Scammers can also easily make iMessage accounts so that texts come through and, if the recipient has read receipts on, they’ll know if their message has been seen.

What do I do if I get a spam text?

It’s clear that spam texts are on the rise, and they know no bounds. You’re armed with information on how to identify them; now, what should you do if you get one?

thumb down

Don’t

  • Click any links. They usually have malware in them or lead to spoofed sites.
  • Respond, even to opt out. This could actually increase the amount of spam you get.
  • Provide personal, account, or financial info.
thumb up

Do

  • Report spam texts to your phone carrier to help shut down the text scam.
  • Prevent spam texts by getting a spam call and text blocker app like RoboKiller.
  • Review your phone bill regularly to make sure charges are correct — you could be charged for receiving spam texts.

Spam texts are annoying — not to mention, illegal. They’re also dangerous.

Every year, one out of 10 Americans falls victim to financial loss from scams, losing an average of $750. In 2020 alone, identity fraud cost Americans a total of $56 billion.

Chart of reported fraud losses by age in 2022. People ages 30-39 sent in the most reports of fraud with total reported loss being 416 million dollars.

When you answer unknown texts, or click on a link in a scam text, you may be sent to a fake or spoofed website where, if you log in, scammers will steal your username and password. Other links may install harmful malware that steals personal information and may expose you to identity theft.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Uh oh, I clicked on a link in a spam text.” We get it; it happens. If you clicked on a link in a spam text, do not give out any personal information or enter any login information on a website you’re redirected to. Disconnect from the internet, report the spam text to your carrier, and block the number. Consider updating your username and passwords for the company the spammer was spoofing.

How to stop getting spam texts

Here’s the part where we have good and bad news. The bad news first: Spammers will do whatever it takes to get your private information, and they’re always devising new ways to do so. But the good news is that it is possible to arm yourself and stop receiving spam texts.

According to the FTC, there are three paths you can take: Block or filter unknown numbers.Block any numbers that send you scam texts, and set up your phone to additionally filter unknown messages.

For Androids:
BLOCK
Step 1: Go to the spam text and hit the three dots at the top right corner of the text.
Step 2: Select “People” and “Options.”
Step 3: Select “Block.”

FILTER
Step 1: Go to Messages, and click the three dots in the upper right corner.
Step 2: Select “Settings,” then “Spam protection.”
Step 3: Toggle “Enable spam protection” on.For iPhones:

BLOCK
Step 1: Go to the spam text and click the “i” in the top right corner of the text.
Step 2: Click on the number and select “Block.”

FILTER (for iOS 14)
Step 1: Open Settings.
Step 2: Select “Messages,” then “Unknown and spam.”
Step 3: Toggle on to filter unknown senders. (Note: This is less advanced and will filter all numbers not in your contact list, so it may be a challenge if you’re expecting calls from service providers.)

Go through your wireless provider.

Some phone carriers offer call-blocking services that include some protection against spam texts. Verizon, for one, offers Call Filter, while T-Mobile (now merged with Sprint) offers Scam Shield.

You can also report spam texts to your wireless carrier by sending suspicious or spam messages to 7726 (SPAM) so the carrier can investigate. However, although this adds the spam number to their database, scammers change their phone numbers frequently, so this is often a fruitless solution.

Additionally, you can add your phone number to the Do Not Call Registry, a database that tells legitimate third parties not to contact you. But, as we’ve seen, scammers don’t follow the law, so this won’t stop them from contacting you.

Use a call-blocking app.

Being prepared for how to tackle receiving spam texts is important, but even better is not getting spam texts in the first place. Download a spam text blocking app like RoboKiller, which is designed for both iOS and Android, to best protect yourself.

Sign up button on the robokiller.com home page.
1. Search for “RoboKiller” in your app store and tap “Download”, or click here to sign up online
2. Open the RoboKiller app
3. Select the “Continue” button
3. Enter your mobile phone number to begin activation

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.

Join the fight against spam texts

Robocalls and spam texts are becoming more popular every year. Not only are they annoying and illegal, but they can also be highly dangerous, leading to scams, fraud, financial losses, and identity theft. While we can’t eradicate the world from spammers (yet!), we can arm ourselves and take back our privacy.

RoboKiller is a spam call and text blocking app that is 99% effective at stopping unwanted text messages and calls before they ever reach you. We support you with the tools you need to take back control of your phone — and your life. Keep your private information safe, and help prevent others from falling prey to text scams.

Try RoboKiller for free for 7 days.

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