How to Fight Back Against Vishing and Smishing Attacks

With the advent of technology and the widespread use of mobile phones, scam calls and texts have become increasingly common. These annoying and invasive attempts to trick you out of your personal information can be frightening and frustrating. They often come in the form of ‘vishing‘ and ‘smishing‘ attacks. But what exactly are these types of scams, and how can you protect yourself against them?

Understanding Vishing and Smishing

Vishing and smishing are two common methods used by scammers to steal personal information. Vishing, a combination of ‘voice’ and ‘phishing,’ typically involves a scammer calling you and pretending to be from a trusted organization, such as your bank. They may tell you that there has been unusual activity on your account and ask for your personal information to ‘resolve’ the issue.

Smishing, on the other hand, combines ‘SMS’ (text) and ‘phishing.’ In this type of scam, you may receive a text message stating that you have won a prize, or that there is a problem with your account. The message will instruct you to click on a link, which will then try and trick you into providing personal information.

How Vishers and Smishers Get Your Phone Number

The main strategy of scammers behind vishing and smishing attacks is volume. They send out calls and messages to a large number of phones, hoping that at least a few will fall for the scam. There are several ways these scammers can get bulk phone numbers for their attacks:

Data Breaches

Data breaches are a common way for scammers to obtain phone numbers, along with names and email addresses. This information can give them everything they need to launch effective vishing and smishing attacks. While some breaches result in the loss of credit card or government ID numbers, others simply provide basic personal information that can be enough to make their scams seem legitimate.

Data Brokers

Another method scammers use to get phone numbers is by purchasing lists from data brokers. These online entities collect and sell detailed information about millions of individuals, including their phone numbers. These lists can be bought for a few dollars with just a few clicks. The data brokers don’t care who they sell to, so even scammers can easily purchase these lists.

Dig Deeper: How Data Brokers Sell Your Identity

Social Media and Online Forums

Scammers often scour social media platforms and online forums to gather personal information, including phone numbers. People sometimes inadvertently share their contact details or other personal information in public posts, comments, or private messages. Scammers exploit these details to build their contact lists.

Public Records and Directories

Scammers may also access publicly available records and directories, such as online phone directories, business listings, or government databases. These sources can provide them with a substantial amount of phone numbers and associated information.

Phishing and Phony Surveys

Some scammers use phishing emails or fraudulent online surveys to trick individuals into disclosing their personal information, which can include phone numbers. They may pose as legitimate organizations or institutions, enticing recipients to provide their contact information in the process.

Examples of Smishing Attacks

You may have already seen smishing attacks without realizing what they were. Here are a few examples of common smishing scams:

  • “We noticed you’re a recent customer. To finish setting up your account, please click this link.” 
  • “Your bank account has been compromised. Please click this link to reset your password.” 
  • “We have a package for you but were unable to deliver it. Please click this link to update your information.”

One feature that these messages have in common is that they all include a link. These links often have unusual character strings and web addresses that do not match the supposed sender of the message. This is a clear indication that the message is a scam.

Protecting Yourself Against Vishing and Smishing Attacks

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself against these types of scams. Here are a few tips:

1. Don’t Trust Caller ID

Scammers have tools at their disposal that can tamper with caller ID, making it appear as though the call is coming from a trusted organization. Do not rely solely on caller ID to determine the legitimacy of a call or text.

Dig Deeper: Be on the Lookout for Scam Tech Support Calls

2. Contact the Organization Directly

If you receive a call or text message that seems suspicious, do not provide any personal information. Instead, hang up or ignore the text and contact the organization directly to verify the request.

3. Report Any Fraud Attempts

If you believe you have been the target of a vishing or smishing attack, document the incident and report it to the company it was supposedly from. Many organizations have dedicated fraud reporting tools for this purpose.

4. Avoid Clicking Links in Text Messages

As a general rule, avoid clicking on links in text messages, especially if they look suspicious or you do not recognize the sender. If you have concerns, always contact the organization directly.

Dig Deeper: The Latest Mobile Scams & How To Stay Safe

Main Strategies to Combat Vishing and Smishing

There are a number of strategies that you can employ to combat these types of scams. One of the most effective ways is to install comprehensive online protection software like McAfee+ on your phone. This software offers features such as web protection that warns you of suspicious links in texts, search results, and websites you browse. If your personal information appears on the dark web, the software can alert you and provide guidance on how to proceed. It can also help you remove your personal information from data broker sites, reducing your exposure to data breaches and spam calls.

Another strategy is to educate yourself on the telltale signs of a scam call or text. For instance, scammers often use scare tactics or threats to manipulate you into giving up your personal information. If you receive a message that seems to play on your emotions or tries to rush you into action, it’s probably a scam. Legitimate businesses and organizations will not typically resort to such tactics. If in doubt, always contact the organization directly to verify the validity of the message.

The Role of Internet Service Providers and Mobile Carriers

Internet service providers and mobile carriers have a crucial role to play in combating vishing and smishing attacks. By implementing advanced security measures, they can help protect their customers from these types of scams. For example, many carriers now offer features such as scam call blocking and identification. These features can help you identify potentially fraudulent calls and texts and avoid falling victim to these scams.

ISPs and mobile carriers can also educate their customers about the risks of vishing and smishing. By providing clear, easy-to-understand information about these scams and how to avoid them, they can empower their customers to protect themselves. As these types of attacks become more sophisticated, the role of ISPs and mobile carriers in combating them will only become more important.

McAfee Pro Tip: Regardless of the nature of these unwelcome calls, there are proactive measures you can take to safeguard yourself and even prevent them from reaching you in the initial instance. Know how to beat and block robocalls.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, vishing and smishing are increasingly common types of scams that target individuals through phone calls and text messages. These scams can be frightening and invasive, but by understanding how they work and implementing strategies to protect yourself, you can significantly reduce your risk of being a victim. Comprehensive online protection software, being vigilant to the signs of a scam, and leveraging features offered by your ISP or mobile carrier are all effective ways to combat these scams. Remember, if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t – always contact the organization directly if you’re unsure about a call or text.

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