Mobile Future

Phishing and smishing: avoiding new technology scams

As a former U.S. Marshal, I still have a keen interest in what is evolving within the law enforcement community.  An excellent source of information is the FBI’s public information website.  Through periodic updates, the bureau alerts its subscribers about current criminal cases that may impact or be of interest to the public.  Last week, I received an article regarding the recent break-up of an international crime ring that used tactics called "phishing" and "smishing."  Since these criminal perpetrators can target anyone of us, I share the information with you.

Phishing is a scam where you receive an email that looks like it’s from your bank or other trusted financial institutions asking for personal information (PIN numbers, social security numbers, credit card information and passwords, etc).  If one responds, the information can then be used to defraud him or her of thousands of dollars, as well as identity theft. 

By now, most people have learned about the dangers of "phishing." However, smishing is a new variation on the scam and operates via text message rather than email.  Smishing involves SMS text messaging.  Cellphone users will receive a text message with a URL address. A past example of smishing is a text message that indicated that the cellphone user had signed up for a dating service and would be charged $2 a day unless they visited a Web site to cancel the subscription.  If the user follows the link, he or she will download malicious software programs.

The break-up of the crime ring included indictments of 38 people who had links to global organized ring, and was made possible through partnerships between the FBI, the U.S. Postal Service, the IRS, and local law enforcement agencies.  Hopefully, the indictment of these criminals will serve as a deterrent to others looking to swindle people via email and text messages. Unfortunately, as technology advances so do the scamming techniques, but there are some steps that you can take to protect yourself.

  • Don’t reply to unsolicited emails and text messages, even if they appear to be from a company that you do business with, since scammers sometimes impersonate legitimate companies.
  • Instead, you can visit the legitimate company’s Web site directly or call them.
  • Also, remember that most legitimate companies will not ask you for sensitive information by email.

While law enforcement agencies are doing their best to track down and break-up these scams, the best defense is to be aware of these scams and to protect yourself and your personal information.