The message was from a number I didn't recognize, but there was no doubt I knew the sender's name.
He identified himself as the CEO of a company I've worked with for years and had a favor to ask. Would I mind going to the nearest Apple Store and texting them a list of available gift card denominations? I was planning to buy some for his staff as a surprise.
I immediately had doubts.
For one thing, the CEO is in California and I'm 2500 miles away in Massachusetts. He also hijacked my call request to confirm details by explaining that he was on a conference call with a client, an unlikely excuse on a Saturday afternoon.
When I insisted again that he call to confirm, the messenger was silent forever.
A quick search showed that the Apple Gift Card scam is so common that Apple has dedicated a page to it on its support site.
Phone and SMS scams are out of control, and the problem is only getting worse, according to a report published last week by Truecaller.
The survey of more than 2000 American adults found that one in three had been the victim of a phone scam with an average loss of €577, up from €502 in 2021.
The company predicted that almost €40 billion has been lost to phone scams in the United States alone in the last 12 months.
Spam, meanwhile, called "smishing" for the combination of text messages and phishing, has more than doubled in three years. Robokiller estimated that 87 billion of them were sent in 000, 2021% more than the previous year, and together generated losses of around €58 billion.
The plague broke the fabric of trust around an essential form of communication.
Truecaller found that 90% of respondents said they only answer calls if they recognize the caller's name, although one in four admit to missing out on legitimate calls as a result.
The problem has remained stubbornly resistant to automated solutions.
Last year, the FCC began requiring phone companies to adopt a set of protocols called STIR/SHAKEN that were intended to create a framework for verifying the identity of Caller ID information.
Although most operators complied, investigations indicate that scammers were quick to find ways around the limitations. For example, last week I got a so-called call from my health care provider, which turned out to be a guy trying to sell me a car warranty.
Assuming the problem will be with us for a long time, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself.
stop and think. Scammers prefer messages intended to inspire knee-jerk reactions, such as informing you that your bank account is about to close. Think about it:
Would an institution in a highly regulated industry like financial services communicate such information via SMS?
putDon't answer calls from people you don't know. Sure, many of us already do this, but scammers are using new tactics like spoofing calls to make it look like they're from an area code and number similar to yours.
Even if the caller ID looks legitimate, it's safer to let the call go to voicemail than to answer and reveal that there's a real person on your number.
Never click on a link in an anonymous SMS. The temptation is difficult to resist. For example, when I was in Spain a few weeks ago, I received a text message allegedly from my credit card company telling me that my account was suspended for suspicious activity and that I should click on a link to restore the service. Una llamada al número local del proveedor me informed lo contrario.
Never click on in-text links unless you know the sender very well, and never click on a URL from a link shortening service.
Never influence a message telling youi made money. Now then.
Never to reveal personal data to a text message or caller, unless you are sure of your identify. Legitimate companies will never ask you to do this.
Finally, here's a good tip from Reader's Digest:
If you answer a call and hear "Can you hear me?" you should hang up immediately. The crooks do this to trick you into saying “yes”, a response that they record and then use to unlock all sorts of sensitive information using voice response systems.
It is a shame that so much innovative energy is wasted on such predatory tactics.
Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.