COLORADO SPRINGS — For years now we've been dealing the headaches that come with countless unwanted robocalls, but now fraud experts say our phones are ringing for a different reason, unwanted text messages.
During the pandemic, many companies shifted to contactless methods including doing business over text messaging. Now, fraudsters are sending phishing text messages at an alarming rate.
Smartphone app Robokiller began tracking this trend recently and found 7.4 billion spam texts were sent in March, a 37% increase from February.
People are complaining about this too. In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission got 334,833 complaints about spam text messages, that's twice as many complaints as all of 2019.
Scam experts say the fraudsters are shifting their focus from phishing emails and robocalls to phishing text messages that can be generated and sent out in a fraction of the time.
"I think what we're seeing is the amount of work that these scammers have to put into a robotext as opposed to a robo-email has declined significantly. They have to do like one-tenth of the actual text and the actual engagement that's there. Unfortunately, it has made their life easier and our lives harder," said CSU Global's "Dr. Fraud" J. Michael Skiba.
One of the things you may notice in these texts is the option to text back "stop" or to "opt out", but fraud experts say if bad actors are behind the text messages you don't ever want to engage.
"What we're seeing is a lot of consumers when they do reply stop immediately after they will receive 5, 10, or 20 more because the scamming system responded that you are a human," said Skiba.
In addition to the ease of generating these spam text messages, the reach continues to grow. Skiba tells News 5 research shows there were 15 billion connected devices that can get text messages in 2018 and that number has increased to 50 billion as of last year.
The ultimate goal for many fraudsters is to try to get access to information in your phone.
"Our phones now are our mobile wallet. They are everything. They house every password usually, every payment. There is so much sensitive information within that cell phone and so that creates an incredible vulnerability," said Skiba.
If you are getting spam text messages on a regular basis there are some settings on some phones that can help to block them, but there's no universal method.
Fraud experts say taking the time to report the details of those messages and the numbers they are coming from can help investigators and also to generate statistics that can help establish some regulations in the future.
Until lawmakers or cell phone carriers do more to stop these spam text messages, the best advice is to delete them and don't engage with the sender unless you can verify it's legitimate.