How to spot fraudulent text messages

How to spot fraudulent text messages

With every passing week, there is growing awareness of the things being sacrificed to maintain lockdown, and the price being paid to keep infection rates low.

These repercussions will last for many years, ranging from individual mental health to long-term economic damage.

Sadly, there are some individuals who would like to cause short-term economic damage as a result of lockdown.

Fraudsters have been attempting to exploit growing confusion among the public, by sending messages with links to fake websites or phone numbers promising help or advice.

This has become easier to achieve as the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations steadily diverge from Westminster, implementing different rules at different times.

In such circumstances, it’s easy to see how an unsolicited text message promising clarity or support might be seen as legitimate, especially if it replicates familiar slogans or logos.

Here’s what you need to know about fraudulent text messages relating to lockdown.

A spoof without the humour

The use of fraudulent text messages in an attempt to obtain financial benefit is known as smishing – an SMS-based variation of email phishing.

Messages are designed to look authentic, urging the victim to reveal personal or financial information (or provide money) without time to reflect on what’s being asked.

They often feature website links with one letter different from the authentic ones (, or phone numbers which redirect to another location.

Smishing attempts may even harness a technique known as spoofing, to insert bogus messages into a chain of legitimate texts.

Spoofing is particularly hard to identify, because it adds an extra veneer of authenticity.

Return to sender

The growth of lockdown-related SMS fraud hasn’t gone unnoticed.

The National Cyber Security Centre is working alongside network operators and financial institutions to block fraudulent texts and inform the public about risks.

A protection registry has been developed, to reduce the risk of criminals impersonating a genuine body like a bank or building society.

It builds on a pilot conducted by that most impersonated of Government bodies, HMRC, which saw smishing attacks drop by 90 per cent.

The UK’s big four mobile networks are all signed up, and have been actively encouraging consumers to forward suspicious messages to 7726.

Consumer advice

As with any attempted fraud, the public’s best weapon is diligence.

Why would you have received a text about coronavirus? Have you signed up for SMS notifications on this subject?

Scrutinise the message itself. Does it refer to you by name? If there’s a weblink, is it to a or address?

Are there spelling or grammatical errors, suggesting fraudulent text messages written by someone with a limited grasp of English?

If in doubt, ring the organisation purporting to have sent it, and ask for clarification.

You could also copy the message text and search online, to see if anyone has reported it as spam.

Above all, never click a link in haste, or ring a number unless you’re sure it’s authentic. It could prove to be an expensive mistake.

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