What is Smishing Attack & How to Avoid It

When a text message or short message service (SMS) sends a note, the receiver obtains three elements from the sender; the receiver obtains the sender’s contact information, the message itself, and finally, the option to respond. Some scammers conduct business through these channels—hoping the receiver chooses to respond or interact with an infected message.

These scams are smishing, meaning information phishing, conducted over SMS. Do not interact with the message if you believe you’ve received a smishing attempt. Continue reading to learn everything about smishing, from prevention to after-the-fact steps.

What is Smishing?

Phishing is an umbrella term; it refers to any email, website, text, or voice message that attempts to influence the victim into action. For example, phishing may occur when a scammer calls your cellphone. They may leave a message about trouble with an account, the authorities, or the government. They aim to deceive the victim into contacting them, opening the door for further lucrative but malicious interactions.

Smishing, in comparison, is a subsection of phishing. Any smishing definition necessarily involves text-based communication. Most commonly, these attempts at gathering information occur over text messaging—straight to a cellphone; however, they can also occur over social media direct messages and application-based communication channels.

  what is smishing

How Does Smishing Work?

Smishing works by the scammer sending a potentially malicious message to their target. Smishing utilizes confidence tricks and urgency to manipulate others into clicking on a link or interacting with the message. Smishing also takes advantage of the public’s dependency on technology—these attacks occur over phones, computers, watches, applications, and more.

There’s a good chance you’ve seen a smishing message before; they are distinct in their illegitimacy. Smishing scammers launch their attacks by utilizing public access information and big-tech servers. In most cases of smishing, scammers find a phone number or text-based communication channel and send it an automatic message. The scammers do not know if the number or message is connected to a potential target until they receive an indication.

Indicators change depending on the goal of the scammer. A scammer looking for online account details may need their victim to click on a link; others may require a callback, an interaction, or some other fictitious actions like fulfilling a survey. In the case of smishing, there is always a link, and it is always malicious:

  • Some links contain downloads that occur automatically without user indication, as with malware, ransomware, and
  • Other links may contain tech with the power to scrape loose data out of unsecured management applications; auto-fill password managers are a main target of these.
  • Some links redirect the victim to a spoof website designed as a decoy, meant to trick the victim into falling for its supposed legitimacy to surrender data.
  • Other links may visually do nothing; they may download software that records entered information for later or recurring use by the scammer.
  • Those who work for corporations and small businesses may see advanced smishing. Scammers that chase after commercial data are almost always after network access.

How Does Smishing Spread?

Smishing and phishing scams have oddball etymology. The words are evocative of information and technology—yet are used linguistically like references to fishermen. Like fishermen, smishermen and phishermen attempt to catch a “bite” with their “lures.”

A smishermen’s “bite” are those indicators mentioned above. When the potential victim interacts with a smishing message, the scammer is notified that the contact information is active; that active status opens the door to receiving even more “lures” from scammers. As the previous section outlined, a cybersecurity nightmare unfolds if one of the lures succeeds. A smishermen’s “lure” is the message itself. Composed of manipulative elements, a smishing lure bets on social engineering to increase bites. Lures have three aspects, although their success varies widely depending on the scammer’s skill and overarching goals.

Lures always contain a legitimate party within the message; the scammer usually impersonates them. The context of the message is likely to vary; however, scammers tend to get more bites when they include names, dollar amounts, or addresses. They aim to use specific references to mitigate the cautious person’s skepticism, catching them off-guard and tricking them into a click.

Types of Smishing Attacks

Financial services smishing is a less common scam, but they are dangerous when they succeed. Smishermen impersonate financial institutions, implying legal repercussions if the victim doesn’t respond. Scammers can impersonate e-commerce parties like PayPal or Zelle; banks, credit unions, investment account managers; and even government entities like the IRS.

Gift smishing, in comparison, catches relevance in waves—particularly after an influential tragedy or a national emergency. Smishermen may impersonate relief institutions or charities needing donations; otherwise, they can impersonate companies with a history of launching community events. Mediocre scammers can easily spoof limited-time offers, exclusives, and customer feedback surveys.

Order confirmation smishing, by contrast, is a common day scam. Scammers take advantage of our necessities using this approach. They can impersonate postal institutions like USPS, USP, and FedEx; or they may lean into lucrative long-cons. Some scammers may deceive their victims into fraudulent activities—e-commerce stores, manufacturers, and small business owners are especially sensitive to warranty and fulfillment fraud. 

Customer support smishing is the most distinct of the four smishing attacks. Smishermen who use this avenue are particularly dangerous; some choose their targets following a social media status, update, or post. They can impersonate customer support from Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Google, Geek Squad, and Barnes and Noble. The most different aspect of these smishing attempts is their process. The others typically involve just a click—customer support smishing encourages telephony interactions.

How to Prevent Smishing?

Smishing is preventable by being cautious about our contact and public information. Generally, the more we give out our information, the more likely scams will occur. Prevention of smishing requires a high bar of qualifications to be met before distributing information. Moreover, the prevention of smishing involves the potential victim’s ability to recognize and properly respond to the lure.

Financial institutions, for example, will never send a text asking for information. Banks may send notifications following account updates or balance changes, but they do so through verifiable numbers. Online phone lookup tools are vital; anyone can check a number, email, or name for a history of legitimacy.

What to Do if You Become a Victim of Smishing

  • Report it: take a screenshot as verifiable proof for the corresponding authorities.
  • Freeze assets: if an account’s information has been leaked, freeze or lock it.
  • Change accounts: when in doubt, change all possible information to new data.
  • Monitor: following a smishing event, take biannual notes of your people records.

Smishing is One of Many Scams

Smishing is a new-age scam that manipulates a person’s tendencies and emotions. The only way to prevent becoming a smishing victim is to recognize the signs; texts sent from an email or foreign number, poor grammar, and words spelled with capitalizations and numbers are common. Look at our blog to learn more about scams and their prevention.