Scammers love phishing schemes, but they aren’t just limited to emails. A new text message scam seems so innocent that it’s tempting to reply. But con artists are using phony “wrong number” texts to lure victims into conversation and falling for a scam.

How the Scam Works

You receive a text that reads something like this: “Hey is this John? It’s Amanda. We chatted on Tinder before when I came to visit my cousin, but we never met girl. I’m back in town if you want to meet up this time, are you free?”

If you reply to a text like this, even with a polite, “Sorry, wrong number,” the stranger responds anyway, seemingly ignoring your answer. Usually, you’ll receive a few compliments and some photos of “Amanda,” who appears to be a scantily clad blonde woman. However, as the word gets out about this scam, scammers will change up the names, backstory, and photos.

If you continue to engage with the stranger, who is really a chat bot, it tries to trick you into registering for dating or adult websites. Your new “friend” will encourage you to sign up for a specific website to see more explicit photos, which may involve offering up your credit card number.  Considering the dubious nature of this scam, if you hand over your credit card information at any point, you could be putting yourself at risk for fraudulent charges and identity theft.

Even BBB staff has received these texts. “I did a double-take,” says Pam Anson, Director of Brand Outreach for BBB Serving Greater Cleveland. “It’s a different approach than most scammers take, and I didn’t think anything too seriously until more of my friends started to say that they also received it… It’s obvious that the scammers are trying to elicit a response, such as sympathy, to this woman for receiving a fake number from a friend, but we need to remind consumers that appearances can be deceiving.”

How to Avoid Chat Bot Scams 

  • Ignore texts from strangers. Strangers on the internet can pretend to be anyone. Question motives behind both solicited and unsolicited messages. If you receive a text from someone you don’t know, simply don’t reply. It’s the safest route. If you engage with a scammer, even briefly, they will mark your number as active, and you could receive even more shady texts in the future.
  • Know that a personalized message doesn’t make the sender trustworthy. Thanks to data breaches and online directories at least some of your personal information is probably online. Scammers may have access to your name, address, where you bank, your phone provider and other details about your life. They may include some of this information in their text to appear more legitimate. When in doubt, contact the businesses directly to find out if they really tried to contact you.
  • Watch out for suspicious links. Most scam text messages contain a link for you to click on. Scammers hope their message will cause you to feel so scared or excited you’ll click the link without thinking. Some of these links could download malware onto your device. Others may lead you to lookalike websites where scammers hope to harvest your personal information, login ID, and passwords.
  • Block numbers that appear to come from scammers. Unsolicited texts that look like they come from a chat bot or that ask you to click on suspicious links are probably not safe. Block these numbers to prevent scammers from contacting you through them again.
  • Never give your personal information to strangers. Never share your credit card or banking information, your full name, home address, or social security number with someone you never met in person. Remember that any photo you upload on social media can be stolen and used by a scammer. 
  • If you have compromised your personal information, you can report the incident to law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission, and freeze your credit reports. To be effective, a freeze must be set up with all three credit bureaus.
    • Experian: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
    • Transunion: https://freeze.transunion.com
    • Equifax: https://www.freeze.equifax.com

Source: BBB.org

For more information, read more about similar scams, such about text messages with surprise offers or mandatory COVID-19 tests

If you’ve been the victim of a text message scam, report it at BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help expose scammers’ tactics, so others won’t fall prey. To find trustworthy businesses, go to https://www.bbb.org.