5 Texts That Are Always Scams, Experts Warn
If you get one of these messages, you're better off not responding.
We spend enough time texting that it's second nature—but that doesn't mean we should let our guard down. Before you click on the next incoming message, you should be aware of any potential risks. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that people in U.S. lost a total of $330 million to text scams last year alone—which is more than double the losses reported in 2021, and nearly five times what was reported in 2019.
And if you think you're too smart to fall for one of these cons, think again. Scammers have gotten savvier with their schemes over time, especially when it comes to texts. These scams spiked during the start of the pandemic and have been rising ever since. Want to make sure you know which messages are red flags? Read on to discover the five texts that experts warn are almost always scams.
Delivery problems: "You have a package that needs to be delivered."
When you're expecting a package, you might sign up to get delivery tracking information sent straight to your phone. But most legitimate delivery companies aren't going to send you a text if you they had trouble dropping off your package. Instead, they'll typically leave a "missed delivery" notice on your door, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
With that in mind, the text warning you that there's been a problem with your delivery is likely from a scammer, and not the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), UPS, or FedEx, Alex Alexakis, a tech expert and founder of the U.S. tech company PixelChefs, tells Best Life.
"They usually ask you to click on a link and enter your tracking number, delivery address, or payment details," Alexakis says. "The scammers want to infect your device with malware, redirect you to fake websites, or steal your information."
Suspended financial accounts: "Your Venmo account has been suspended."
Whether you're checking your banking app for your balance or sending money to someone over Venmo, a lot of our finances are digital these days. So getting a text that claims one of your financial accounts has been suspended is enough to send anyone into a panic—and unfortunately, scammers are counting on that.
Marlon Buchanan, a cybersecurity expert with over two decades of experience and author of The Personal Cybersecurity Manual, says con artists may send account suspended, closed, blocked, or locked scam texts, most often in regards to bank accounts or peer-to-peer payment services like PayPal or Venmo.
"They will give you a link or a phone number to call to unlock your account or keep it from closing. These will lead to a scammer who is out to get your money and/or identity," Buchanan explains. "If you are concerned about your account, find a bank statement and call the number on it, or type in the bank's URL directly and find out online."
Unprompted authentication codes: "[Code] is your Amazon OTP."
Two-factor authentication (2FA) has become a popular security measure, in which a one-time password (OTP) gets sent to your phone and can be entered elsewhere to verify your identity and keep your account secure, per TechTarget.
On the flip side, you could actually be putting your information at risk if you fall for an OTP scam—like a message providing you with an Amazon code you didn't request.
"These are texts that pose as coming from a service that you use that is asking you to send them 2FA code," Buchanan says. "They'll usually say that someone tried to access your account, and if it wasn't you (and it wasn't) please send a 'reset code' that the service sent to you."
But it's not actually Amazon sending you a code. Instead, it's likely coming from a bad actor who is trying to lure you into giving up the code so they can access your account, according to Buchanan.
"The scammer has your phone number and is already attempting to log into your account, which triggered a 2FA authorization. This is the final piece they need to get into your account," he warns. "Never send a 2FA code via text or email. Only ever enter into the site that requested the code in the first place."
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Random loan offers: "You are approved for an instant loan up to $5,000."
If you're down on your luck, an out-of-the-blue text offering you a loan of $5,000 might seem like a gift from above. But if it seems too good to be true, it usually is—especially in this case, according to Robbie Baskins, a chartered financial analyst and founder of Voddler.
"These are typically scams because they require an upfront fee or ask for personal information for application purposes," Baskins says.
The FTC also warned about the rise of these advance-fee loan schemes back in July 2022.
"Scammers don't disclose fees before you apply for a loan. Scam lenders might say you've been approved for a loan. But then they say you have to pay them before you can get the money. That's a scam," the agency noted. "Any up-front fee that the lender wants to collect before granting the loan is a cue to walk away, especially if you're told it's for 'insurance,' 'processing,' or just 'paperwork.'"
Government agency threats: "IRS is filing a lawsuit against you."
Hearing from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can be stressful no matter what it's about. But if a scary message warning you about a tax problem pops up on your phone, rest assured that it's not from the IRS at all. As the agency explains on its website, it "doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers by text messages."
Scammers are hoping that the threat of a financial penalty, lawsuit, or even an arrest warrant will make you ignore the fact that government agencies won't threaten you with scary texts, according to Buchanan.
"They will tell them you need to contact them immediately to clear up the issue, but that contact information leads to a scammer trying to get your financial and identity information," he explains.
- Source: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/data-visualizations/data-spotlight/2023/06/iykyk-top-text-scams-2022
- Source: https://www.bbb.org/article/scams/16460-scam-alert-shipping-trick-fools-holiday-shoppers
- Source: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-know-about-advance-fee-loans
- Source: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-scams-consumer-alerts