Hawaii AARP warns of text message ‘smishing’ scam

The Maui News – With “smishing” one of the newer hacking techniques, AARP Hawaii will be among the groups hosting a “Scam Jam” from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 9 in the Cameron Center Auditorium in Wailuku.

Instead of sending emails, hackers are increasingly using text messages to reach potential victims, experts warn. Smishing is named after short message device — the technology that enables text messaging.

AARP Hawaii recently received text messages from what appears to be a smishing scam. The texts look like error messages and contain links. One message says to click on a link.

Experts warn not to click on links in messages like this, AARP Hawaii says.

One clue of a smishing scam is that the number is shortened — nine digits instead of the usual 10. That’s a sign that the message is an email sent to a phone. The numbers change each time a message is sent, making it difficult to block.

Smishing has been around for a while, but experts have noticed an increase in recent weeks, AARP Hawaii said.

Scammers appear to be turning to text messages because people are ignoring emails and are tending to read and respond to text messages quickly, AARP Hawaii said. Most text messages are opened within minutes of receiving them.

To fight back against smishing, AARP fraud expert Sid Kirchheimer offers some tips:

• Don’t reply to text messages from unknown senders. Even sending a “remove,” “stop” or “opt-out” response tells SMS senders that the mobile number is active and ripe for more messages. Be especially wary of texts from a 5000 or other shortened number (versus a complete 10-digit phone number); this indicates the message is actually an email sent to a phone.

• Never reply to text messages asking for confirmation or requesting personal or financial information. Legitimate companies don’t text requests for account numbers, log-in details and other sensitive data. Government agencies don’t correspond by text and are unlikely to even have mobile phone numbers.

• Slow down. Most people instinctively deal with text messages ASAP, and smishing scams work best when creating a false sense of urgency. Rather than calling back numbers provided in text messages (doing so is another tipoff of a working cell number), take a few minutes to verify the actual phone numbers of legitimate businesses that may be seeking contact.

• Forward suspicious text messages to short code 7726 (which spells “SPAM” on the keypad), which allows cellphone carriers to identify and block smishing messages.

• Be stingy with release of cellphone numbers. Don’t post it online or on social media or provide it for contests, surveys, “deals” or “free trials.”

The Maui Scam Jam workshop will include Susan Arthur with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation as the keynote speaker. Other partners include the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii and the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Office of the Securities Commissioner.

Surveys show that 1 in 10 Americans are victimized by phone scams. Estimated losses nationwide are about $16 billion, AARP Hawaii said.

The prime targets of scammers are kupuna. While younger people are more likely to fall victim to scammers, people 60 and older lose the most money and are less able to recover from their loss when they’re conned, AARP Hawaii said.

People who come to Scam Jam will learn about the psychology of money, the top scams that con artists use in Hawaii and how to protect themselves from becoming a victim.

The event is free, but participants should pre-register at bit.ly/aarpHIevents or by calling (877) 926-8300.