FREEHOLD – The Monmouth County Department of Consumer Affairs wants every county resident to be aware of “smishing,” the latest attempt to steal information from unsuspecting cellphone users.
“As we rely on technology and our cellphones more, thousands of people are using the same technology to target and take advantage of cellphone users,” said Freeholder Lillian G. Burry, liaison to the department. “Residents need to be aware of new attempts to commit fraud and identity theft.”
Smishing is similar to the email technique “phishing,” except that it takes information from cellphones. It looks legitimate, but tricks victims into submitting their information, which is then used to steal identities. The term refers to the abbreviation for text messaging, SMS or Short Message Service. Smishing is sometimes referred to as “vishing.”
Typically, a criminal begins by setting up an automated dialing system to text or call people in particular area codes or regions. Sometimes, they will use customer phone numbers that were stolen from banks or credit unions.
After collecting your information, the criminal can drain bank accounts, steal identities, charge items with the credit card numbers or set up more accounts that only the criminal can access.
Consumers are already aware of phishing emails, such as the Nigerian prince asking for money or winning money from the Canadian Mounted Police and other lottery schemes. Because consumers feel safe using cellphones, they are at an even greater risk of falling prey to smishing. Most of the messages cause a sense of alarm, using trigger words such as problems with bank or credit cards that people are more likely to click or call without thinking it is a scam.
“Be vigilant,” said Annmarie Howley, director of the Monmouth County Department of Consumer Affairs. “Identity theft rates continue to rise at an alarming rate, and consumers must be aware of new scams. Smishing scam artists are very difficult to track, because they often operate in foreign countries. This means consumers must hesitate to click on links and call numbers they have never seen before.”
If you get a text alert or email about a bank account or some other account, do not respond before you verify that it is a legitimate text alert. Keep the phone number to your bank or credit card agency in your phone’s list of contacts. That way you can easily verify that the number in the text message is the correct number and not a scam.