Fighting text message scams

March 8, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
With Americans sending billions of messages a month, scam artists are targeting your personal mobile phones.

In this day and age, many of us text on our cell phones, more than we talk. And scammers are now using text messages offering gift cards from major retailers, like Best Buy, Walmart and Target and it's all to get personal information out of you.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says these companies have nothing to do with these scams.

Here is an example of what these messages might say: "Hey you - you can get a thousand dollar gift card from Walmart."

How common are these text messages? CNN Producer David Gracey says has received several of these. "They said, 'Congratulations, you have won a free gift card.' But, after the third text in under a week saying I won a free gift card, I knew I couldn't be that lucky," said Gracey.

The FTC is cracking down. They have charged 29 individuals and companies from around the us with sending more than 180 million unwanted text messages.

First, spam text messages are illegal -- and the FTC says these so-called free gift cards are anything but free. If you actually click on the link you have to keep putting in more and more personal information.

"As many as 13 different offers are required to complete supposedly just to receive this free gift card. The offers they're presented with include offers to apply for credit, offers to sign up for a free trial offer for various products. At the end of the day, after they complete all those steps -- 13 or more steps -- they're often presented with something that says now find three more people who will fill out this information," said Charles A. Harwood, FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection.

According to a study by Cloudmark, 60 Percent of consumers said they had received a spam text message in the last year.

Blocking the text messages is not so easy. "The telephone companies have some methods to attempt to block spam text messages, but you need to know the number you want to block, and the problem with these scams is that the numbers change so regularly," said Steve Wernikoff, FTC Investigator.

If you receive one of these messages, the FTC says to forward it to your carrier by typing in 7726 or SPAM."

By the way, FTC officials say when they investigated the gift card scams, and not one person has received the free gift card. The FTC is now asking the courts to put a stop to it and they want the companies responsible to reimburse consumers who might have lost money on these spam offers.


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