Text message scams are nothing new, but they used to be really obvious. Like anything else, scammers evolve to keep getting paid.
Innocent Texts from a Friend
Came across a news story today that finally answers a question of mine. About a year ago, I got a text from “Steve.” Now, I have an uncle named Steve, and although we don’t text, it was not beyond the pale that he ever would. He was friendly, asked how it was going. He asked about “that beautiful wife” and my kids. This was probably a 15 or 20 text conversation when I asked something kind of specific about my cousin that would have been obvious to the real Steve. The scammer didn’t know about that, so he said something like he didn’t know about it (impossible) so I stopped answering and went back through my texts.
Just like that scene in Enemy of the State where he asks, “Did he say it first or did you say it?” – I realized that other than the opening question or two, everything cleverly piggybacked off my answers to make it sound like we knew each other. I stopped replying and after another few messages blocked the number. If it was my real uncle, it’s not like there were no other ways for him to get ahold of me. In fact, I waited to see if my mom would call. “Why did you block your uncle…” Except the call never came.
I caught on and blocked before it got this far, but it is apparently a huge scam backed by Chinese gangs filling up hotel rooms with people to send these kinds of chat messages. The goal is to get you to think that it is someone you know and trust and then get you to handover money, your banking information, or even to buy a “sure-thing” stock, or something.
The reason I’m wasting all the time typing this out is that but for that one detail that the scammer didn’t know, I thought I was standing in Target texting my uncle. Now, I know he would never ask me for money that way, but if he needed my address (we get formal invites, and packages in the mail) I certainly would have typed that out. I’m pretty paranoid about money and I know too much about investing scams, but personal info certainly could have been compromised. They even have scripts where if it seems that trying to get money from YOU would not work to keep asking you about some of your relatives or friends so that they can get in contact with them, where they will use all the information, they got from you to gain the next victim’s confidence, or to steal your tax refund.
Never Send Money or Info Based on Texts
If you read this far (sorry), keep in mind that people can make the phone number they are calling from fake. They might even try and make it someone you know so it shows up as a “mistake” in your contacts list. Do not ever give financial information over text, and for the love of god, don’t send money based on texts, not to help out a broke down car, not to invest in a sure thing, not to help Lucy sell more Girl Scout Cookies. No Venmo, no Cashapp, no Zelle, no wire transfers. Believe it or not, when you give out bank information (like you do to the phone company for online pay) the only thing keeping them from taking more money is that they are legitimate business. With your routing number and account number I can take every cent in that account.
Text Scams Can Be Hard to Detect
I guess what freaked me out is that I consider myself pretty savvy, and I fell for it for about 5 or 6 minutes. If someone gets lucky with the information, they guess about you to prove they are legitimate, you might never see it coming.
Keep in mind, the information gained from even an unsuccessful attempt like mine can yield valuable information that they can use later to target you with other scams like a work from home scam, or