Hey, I just won a $1,000 gift certificate from Target!
And so did a person who sits right next to me in the newsroom! His notification came within two days of mine!
What are the odds of that? Perhaps we should have bought tickets for that half-billion-dollar Powerball drawing!
Both of us were notified via text message. Mine read:
“Your entry last month has WON! Go to TargetContests.net and enter your winning code 84238 to claim your FREE $1,000 Target gift card within 24 hrs.”
Please note that your favorite columnist is sharing his winning code so that you, too, can be a winner!
And that’s only half of the great news! Within a few days, both of us were notified that we had won another $1,000!
So I guess what they say is true: Luck runs in streaks!
Now, I have a little prize I’d like to deliver to the people who are delivering these prizes to my cellphone. I would like to look those people right in the eye and thank them profusely.
But I can’t seem to track them down. So I figured I’d send them a little thank you note via my cellphone provider. I forwarded the texts and the originating phone numbers to the universal text code 7726.
As scam attempts go, this approach is relatively new.
Most of us are familiar with the word “phishing,” which has been in use since the mid-1990s to describe email attempts to get us to surrender passwords, credit card information and other personal gems by posing as mainstream institutions, such as banks. When the bait arrives via text, rather than email, it is known as “smishing,” a reference to the texting standard SMS (Short Messaging Service).
No matter how these things are delivered, most of us are savvy enough to instantly recognize them as scams. But when they show up as stand-alone texts, rather than among a bunch of junk in your email inbox, they seem to carry more clout.
People know their email addresses are floating around all over the place, but sometimes they assume that if someone has their cellphone number, they must have it for a reason.
And in this case, if a person shops regularly at Target, and might have given the company a cellphone number at some point — well, the more gullible among us might cave in to optimism.
The reason they have your number is because they use automated dialers to send out random calls, hoping to find legitimate numbers. Don’t text back the word “stop” or respond in any manner. Doing so only confirms that your number is real and will encourage more fake texts.
Security experts are reporting an explosion in smishing. The security firm Cloudmark says unique smishing campaigns increased 400 percent the first half of this year and 900 percent during the first week in September.
Scammers love text messaging because it is noticed more quickly and opened more often than email. Writes a Cloudmark official, “SMS messaging proves particularly attractive, with open rates in excess of 90 percent within 15 minutes of receipt, compared to email with only a 20 to 25 percent open rate and an average 24-hour wait before being read.”
As Beacon Journal consumer columnist Betty Lin-Fisher noted Sunday, Target isn’t the only company smishers have hijacked. Similar messages have been flying through the airwaves under the names Best Buy, Walmart, Apple and others. Those companies aren’t happy about it, but trying to catch these jerks is considerably tougher than, say, trying to catch a shoplifter.
Fortunately, there’s a universal system for reporting scams to your cellphone provider. If you forward the offending text to 7726, your company will unleash its security folks.
Compounding this problem is that some cellphone users occasionally receive legitimate texts from their banks or other mainstream entities, so they are much more susceptible to fake texts that mimic a company they are associated with.
“Just because you have a relationship with the bank mentioned in the text, it doesn’t mean the text actually came from the real bank,” Cloudmark says. “Indeed, it is exactly this assumption that scammers are banking on — pun intended.”
When in doubt, get back to basics: If something sounds too good to be true …
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.