Dramatic rise in 'smishing' text message scam attempts, says Which?

The number of SMS frauds increased significantly in the first six months of 2021 Which?

The consumer group said numbers of Point of evidence show that reports of ‘smishing’ (SMS phishing) in the UK increased by almost 700% in the first six months of 2021 compared to the second half of 2020.

Such scams are often texts that imitate banks, delivery companies and telephone networks.

Proofpoint operates the text service 7726, which enables users to report spam texts free of charge, and collects data on these reports categorized as smishing.

The numbers suggest that the ratio of packet smishing attacks to bank smishing attacks is three to one. Voicemail smishing – in which scammers send text pretending to have a link to voicemail – is also a newer technique.

Encouraged by Which? Large banks and shipping companies such as Barclays, TSB, DPD and Hermes have now agreed to adopt an SMS best practice guide for companies to protect customers from fraud.

Since the introduction of its own “Scam Sharer” tool in March of this year, which one? has received more than 9,000 reports. About 65% of these were related to phone call or SMS fraud, while 31% were specifically fraudulent SMS.

Research by the consumer champion found that more than seven in ten people say they don’t trust business text messages to be fraud-free.

Rocio Concha, which one? The director of politics and advocacy said: “Smishing attempts have increased dramatically – with scammers taking advantage of the pandemic to trick consumers into revealing personal information and transferring their hard-earned money.

“Businesses must do their part to protect people from fraud.”

The results were released when the fraud prevention body Cifas and Mobile UK (the trade association of UK mobile network operators) warned of an increase in “social engineering attacks” on cell phone users.

Attempts by criminals to pose as real customers of phone companies and hijack their accounts have increased dramatically in recent years, they said.

Takeover fraud, where an existing mobile phone account is taken over by a fraudster, has increased by 88% in the telecommunications sector over the past three years, with over 17,500 cases recorded in 2020.

Criminals have also reportedly used other communication methods, such as social media platforms, to impersonate a cell phone company.

Cifas’ fraud investigator Amber Burridge said, “When you get a call from someone pretending to be a carrier offering you a new phone or an upgrade, always be skeptical and challenge the caller.”

Gareth Elliott, Head of Policy and Communications at Mobile UK, added, “We ask our customers to stay vigilant and help us take action by texting harassment reports to 7726 and reporting suspicious calls.”

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