How to handle phishing, smishing attacks

If it feels like more scammers and spammers are flooding your various inboxes, that’s because they probably are.

Fake text messages and e-mails carrying phishing attempts by virtual scammers have been on the rise since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. And, one of the more prevalent methods scammers have been using recently is fake messages purporting to be from an Amazon representative, who might claim to be checking in about suspicious activity on your account or even a delayed package.

Typically, these phishing or “smishing” — aka SMS phishing — attacks are aimed at tricking you into believing you are communicating with a legitimate representative of the e-commerce giant. If you’re not careful, you might over valuable personal information from your credit card information to login credentials for your online accounts, or click on malware-ridden links that infect your devices with viruses. 

The Federal Trade Commission reports that U.S. consumers collectively lost roughly $5.8 billion from fraud in 2021, up 70% over the previous year. About a third of that came from imposter scams.

So, what can you do to make sure you’re not taken in by one of these increasingly prevalent spammer scams?

How to screen for scams

Don’t click any links, or share any personal information, unless you’re absolutely sure you’re actually speaking with an actual representative from Amazon, or any other legitimate company or organization.

The FTC notes that there are several tell-tale signs often associated with scammers, who can “use a variety of ever-changing stories to try to rope you in.” These include:

  • Promising you’ve won a free prize
  • Offering some form of low-interest credit
  • Alerting you to allegedly suspicious account activity
  • Saying there’s a problem with your payment information
  • Sending you a fake invoice

Amazon itself offers an online guide to help its customers identify suspicious messages posing as official Amazon communications. The company says that red flags include order confirmations for items you didn’t order and messages with grammatical errors or prompts to install software. 

The company says that if you’re suspicious about a message requesting updated payment information, you should go to your online Amazon account’s “Your Orders” page. “If you aren’t prompted to update your payment method on that screen, the message isn’t from Amazon,” the company says.

Many scammers rely on “spoofing,” a practice that tricks your phone’s Caller ID into thinking you’re getting a text or call from someone you trust. In some cases, they even mimic your own number, making it seem like you’re calling or texting yourself.

So to be extra cautious, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommends that you “never share your personal or financial information via email, text messages, or over the phone.” 

How to block and report spammers

If you have any doubt over a particular text or e-mail’s legitimacy, the FTC advises you to contact the company or institution’s “verifiable customer service line.” Visit the company’s website to find a valid contact number or e-mail address, rather than responding to the message you’ve received.

The simplest way to stop receiving suspicious messages is to block the phone numbers or email addresses that are messaging you. You can also manage your phone’s filters to weed out calls or texts from unknown numbers.

Unfortunately, some scammers use different numbers or addresses for each message they send, leaving you playing a game of virtual Whack-a-Mole, constantly blocking suspicious numbers and e-mails as the scammers cycle through new ones.

At that point, consider reporting the spam and phishing attempts to your wireless carrier or e-mail service, along with government agencies — including the FTC’s online fraud complaint form and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

If the suspected scammer is claiming to be representing a specific company like Amazon or a government entity, you can also try reporting the attempt to the actual organization. Amazon suggests visiting the company’s “Report Something Suspicious” page on its customer service section, where you can report any texts, e-mails or phone calls you’ve received that you suspect didn’t actually come from Amazon.

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