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Why You Should Never Respond to Wrong Number Texts, Officials Warn

You may be making the situation worse by falling for this one tactic.

Thanks to stored contact information in our smartphones, calling or texting someone these days rarely requires dialing a number. But even though it's never been easier to get in touch with the right person, receiving a call or text out of the blue from a stranger who's trying to reach someone else still isn't a thing of the past. And while they may seem mildly annoying at best, officials warn that you should never reply to a wrong number text as a matter of your own safety. Read on to see why it's best to leave these random messages unanswered.

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Pay careful attention to which numbers are sending you text messages.

A young woman looking at her smartphone with a confused or concerned look on her face

As convenient as the smartphone technology in our pockets has made our daily lives, it's brought with it a new set of nuisances. For many, constant spam phone calls and unsolicited text messages have become such a daily norm that it can become difficult to know when someone is actually trying to reach you. In many cases, people simply choose to avoid any communication from a contact they don't recognize or have stored on their device. But things can get confusing when you do recognize a number sending you a message—especially if it's your own.

In March, Verizon Wireless customers reported receiving a text from their phone number that stated, "Free Msg: Your bill is paid for March. Thanks, here's a little gift for you," which was accompanied by a link. Verizon explained that the messages were part of what's known as a "smishing" scam, a newly rampant type of fraud that allows criminals to "spoof" a number to get around spam blockers or caller ID filters.

The company advised anyone who received the strange "self texts" to avoid clicking on any links and to delete them immediately. But whatever the case may be, there's one more thing you'll want to avoid when dealing with a mysterious message.

Officials warn that replying to a wrong number text is a bad idea.

Woman Typing a Text Message.

It may seem easy to avoid unwanted marketing messages or clearly suspicious communications that get sent to your phone. But according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the latest evolution of text scamming will often appear as though someone is urgently trying to get in touch with someone else.

"It's like, 'Jeff, give me a call,' and you're like: 'What? I'm obviously not Jeff,'" Chester Wisniewski, a principal research scientist at cybersecurity company Sophos, told NBC News. "But they're looking for engagement. As long as you respond, they can start the conversation."

Officials warn that replying to these text messages gives the fraudsters an opportunity to start a conversation, which could be about a fake emergency, or might be a simple "hi" to get someone to respond. Once the mysterious person has developed a relationship with their intended victim, they will then often attempt to swindle them out of cash by convincing them to spend money on cryptocurrency.

"Some are like, 'Hey, can I make an appointment for my dog at your salon?'" Erin West, the deputy district attorney in charge of the high technology crimes unit in Santa Clara County, California, told NBC News. "They're broadening the way they will [enter] you into the same scam. They are all scams, and I think they are all crypto-investment scams."

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Sending back a message of any kind could cause more trouble for you in the long run.

hacker at computer

Perhaps you're genuinely concerned for someone who says they desperately need to get in touch with the right person. Or maybe you're frustrated at receiving what appears to be yet another scam text message and want to vent. But as tempted as you may be, experts warn that sending a reply message of any kind could make the situation worse for you, even if you don't pass along any personal information or click a link.

According to cybersecurity company NortonLifeLock, sending a text back to these suspicious contacts lets them know that your number is active and viable. From there, the original scammer can sell your contact information to other fraudsters who will be able to begin their own deluge of unwanted spam messages into your inbox. The FCC warns that this includes messages that request you to send back "STOP" to unsubscribe.

Here's what you should do if you get a suspicious text from a wrong number.

Man confused by text

While it may seem like scammers are always one step ahead, there's still plenty you can do after receiving a wrong number text besides holding back from sending a reply. The FCC suggests forwarding the strange message to SPAM (7726) before reporting it as junk or spam via whichever messaging app you use and deleting the message. If you're already receiving too many of these notifications, the agency suggests using a text blocker that's built into your phone, downloading a third-party app, or contacting your mobile provider for a potential solution.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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