Getting a text message is a lot like someone calling out your name. It’s tough to ignore.
Delivery notifications, messages from your bank, job offers, and security alerts—those texts have a way of getting your attention. And scammers know it. In the U.S. alone, their text-based scams accounted for a reported $330 million in losses in 2022—nearly a 5x increase compared to 2019.
When it comes time for scammers to reach their victims, text messages are the top choice. Far more so than email or phone calls. Estimates show that up to 98% of people will read a text message. Half of them will answer it. Compare that to email, which has an open rate that hovers around 20% and a reply rate of 6%.
In all, text scams make for cheap, easy, and effective attacks. Even more so with the help of highly convincing messages scripted by AI.
Scammers simply have it easier and easier these days. Or so it can seem. Now you have an AI-powered tool that can finally put an end to those scam texts on your phone— McAfee Scam Protection.
Let’s check out the top scams out there today, and then how McAfee Scam Protection and a few other steps can make your time on your phone a lot less annoying and a lot safer as well.
The top five text scams.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), five specific text scams account for 42% of scams randomly sampled by the commission. Here’s how they stack up:
- Phony bank alerts and messages.
- Bogus gift offers that steal personal info.
- “Problems” with package deliveries.
- Job scams.
- Amazon imposter scams.
Sound familiar, like something that you’ve seen pop up on your phone? Chances are it does. In all, the scammers behind these texts want the same thing—your personal info, money, or a combination of both. They just take different routes to get there.
Beyond the top five, the other 58% of scams put their spin on their texts. However, different as they are, these scam texts have several common signs you can spot.
First off, they usually include a link. The link might include unusual strings of characters and a web address that doesn’t match who the message says it’s coming from. Like a bogus notice from the post office that doesn’t use the official post office URL. Or, the link might look almost like a legitimate address, but changes the name in a way that indicates it’s bogus.
Instead of a link, the text might contain a phone number to call. Sophisticated scam operations run call centers that work much like legitimate call centers—although scammers design them to steal your money and personal info.
The message might employ a scare tactic or threat. Scammers love this approach because it successfully plays on people’s emotions and gets them to act quickly without much thinking.
Sometimes, the text might be a seemingly innocent message. Like, “Is this Steven’s number?” Or, “I’ll always love you.” Sometimes it’s only a simple, “Hi.” This is by design. The scammer wants to pique your curiosity, or your desire to be helpful, and then respond. From there, the scammer will try to strike up a conversation, which can lead to a romance scam or a similar con game like an online job scam.
How to spot the top five text scams.
Fortunately, scammers tend to follow a basic script. You’ll see variations, of course. Yet these texts share common elements, just as text scams in general do. That makes them easy to spot.
Be on the lookout for:
Bank scams like, “BANK FRAUD ALERT: Did you make a $4,237.95 purchase at Jacuzzi World? Please confirm!” You’ll know if it’s a scam if the text:
- Was sent from an institution you don’t bank with. That’s an immediate sign.
- Comes from an unrecognizable and unofficial number.
- Requests you to tap a link or call the number—likely to provide personal info.
Gift scams like, “ATT FREE MESSAGE. Thanks for paying your bill. Click here for a reward.” First, you can note that the scammer spelled the phone carrier AT&T incorrectly. Other signs of a scam include:
- The text involves tapping a link to claim your (bogus) prize—or calling an unknown number.
- It involves paying a fee for shipping your (bogus) prize.
- It similarly calls for submitting account or personal info to pay for your (bogus) winnings.
- The payout is for a lottery or giveaway you never entered.
Delivery scams like, “We were unable to deliver your shipment. Please update your info so that we can get your package to you.” This is a common one, and you can spot it several ways:
- First off, you’re not expecting a package. Let alone one from the “company” that sent you the text.
- It contains a link that doesn’t look like it directs you to an official site, like UPS or FedEx.
- If you’re in North America, look at the number of the sender. Some scammers text from an overseas location. This can result in a long phone number that contains a country code with a “+” in front of it.
Job scams like, “BE A SECRET SHOPPER. Make $500 per store! Click the link to get started!” A company that hires employees by sending thousands of spammy texts isn’t a company at all. It’s a scam. Other signs are:
- They ask you to tap a link or call a number, once again.
- The link looks like a string of nonsense or like a slightly fudged version of a legitimate web address.
- The job offer seems too good to be true. (Because it is.)
Amazon scams like, “TRANSACTION ALERT: Your purchase of a 65” QLED TV for $1,599.99 is confirmed. Not you? Contact us to cancel the order.” This is a spin on the bank fraud alert, with the scammers posing as Amazon’s fraud team. Aside from using the Amazon name, other signs include:
- The text lists a big-ticket item with a big price tag to get your attention.
- There’s a sense of urgency. The text implies you need to act quickly to cancel the order.
- You have a number to call or a link to tap, which puts you in touch with a phony customer care rep.
Now, how to avoid text scams.
With what you need to spot scam texts, now you can avoid the damage they can do. And you can take additional steps to keep them from reaching you altogether.
1. Don’t tap on links in text messages: If you follow one piece of advice, it’s this.
2. Follow up directly: If you have concerns, get in touch with the company you think might have sent it. Manually type in their website and enquire there. Again, don’t tap any links.
3. Clean up your personal data: Scammers must have gotten your number from somewhere, right? Often, that’s an online data broker—a company that keeps thousands of personal records for millions of people. And they’ll sell those records to anyone. Including scammers. A product like our Personal Data Cleanup can help you remove your info from some of the riskiest sites out there.
4. Get scam protection: Using the power of AI, our new McAfee Scam Protection can alert you when scam texts pop up on your phone. And as a second line of defense, it can block risky sites if you accidentally follow a scam link in a text, email, social media, and more.
Also, consider playing a part in the solution.
Businesses, agencies, and law enforcement work together to shut down scams. Many of them have websites and points of contact for reporting fraud. Netflix offers a good example, and so does the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the U.S. McAfee has a page dedicated to fraud as well.
Further, in the U.S., you can also report it to the FTC at https://www.ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Similarly, they use and share reports with law enforcement partners to help with investigations.
If you spot a clear imposter or scam, give some thought to grabbing a screenshot and reporting it.
You have what it takes to stop text scams.
Even as scammers’ attacks get more sophisticated, the tools that can beat them are more sophisticated as well. In part thanks to AI. With a sharp eye, tools like McAfee’s Scam Protection can help you steer clear of text scams.
With both in place, you can improve the chances that your next incoming text is from a friend that brings a smile to your face—instead of a scam text that leaves you shaking your head.
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