New Twists and Terms Add to Growing Cell Phone Scam List

Latest tricks – plus seven things you can do to avoid becoming a cell phone scam victim: Internet Scambusters #357

“Smishing” is the term for an already well established cell
phone scam — phishing for personal information using SMS or
text messages.

But cell phone identity theft is merely one of a whole host of
tricks surfacing on mobile devices, which now number more than
3 billion worldwide.

We take a closer look at smishing and other cell phone scams
in this issue — and offer seven tips on how to avoid them.

But first, we urge you to take a look at these top articles
from our other websites:

7 Tips for Shopping Online Safely and Prevent Identity Theft: If you
want to be able to href=""
target="_blank">shop online and keep your identity safe, follow
these tips.

Reasons Why Online Banking Is a Must For Savvy Consumers: href=""
target="_blank">Online banking provides several benefits and once
you try it you won’t want to go back!

Getting Your Online Diploma — Getting Ahead or Wasting Your Time:
Know the facts when considering pursuing an href=""
target="_blank">online diploma for your continuing

Avoid Popular Work at Home Scams: By following these helpful tips to href=""
target="_blank">prevent work at home scams, you’ll avoid losing
money and wasting your time.

And now for the main feature…

New Twists and Terms Add to Growing Cell Phone Scam List

In the year or so since we last featured it, the cell phone
scam has become a widespread online and wireless crime. And
with around half the world’s population now using the devices,
it’s not hard to see why.

Most of the tricks we highlighted in our earlier issue, href="">The 10 Most Common
Cell Phone Scams and How to Avoid Them, are still very active.

There are also several new cell phone scams, while one is
becoming so common it has earned itself the dubious
distinction of having its own name — “smishing”.


It’s easy to guess what “smishing” is all about. It’s the use
of SMS messages — texting — as an aid to identity theft,
which is still the number one cell phone scam.

The practice of sending text messages that claim your bank
account or credit card has been blocked has been around for
years, but obviously it still works well for the mobile phone
scam artists, since police in both North America and Europe
have reported a rise in incidents.

In one recently reported case, the victim received the
following message:

—- Begin cell phone scam text —- (card blocked) Alert. For more
information please call 1-866-942-5647. Thank you.

—- End cell phone scam text —-

A recorded message on that now-disconnected number told the
victim someone was misusing her credit card number online, and
asked her to key the card number for confirmation, so a new
one could be sent.

The particularly sneaky element of this cell phone identity
theft attempt is that “ncua” is the National Credit Union
Administration, a frontline campaigner against cell phone
scams, so the crooks clearly were trying to gain credibility
by passing themselves off as the NCUA.

But, of course, the NCUA never, but never, asks people via a
text message to key in their credit card numbers.

Sadly, this is not the only identity theft ruse used by the
cell phone scam merchants.

For instance, in a case earlier this year, a fraud ring landed
$22m of merchandise by using a cell phone industry insider to
access users’ account details, which were then used to order
extra equipment, which was subsequently sold by the thieves.

Nothing you could do about that — other than taking the usual
precautions that you can find at our href="">Identity Theft
Information Center.

Malware and Cell Phones

And as they do with PCs, scammers use malware that you might
inadvertently download onto your cell (sometimes by visiting
infected websites, other times via downloads of ringtones) to
harvest and transmit your personal information.

Malware is also the culprit behind a new variation of another
cell phone scam term — “cramming” — which we featured in
a previous issue: href="">Slamming,
Cramming and Other Top Scams.

Traditionally, cramming involves both regular and mobile
phones and usually shows up as hefty and unexpected charges in
your monthly bill.

Often these are racked up either by fooling you into dialing
expensive premium line or overseas numbers, or by unwittingly
signing you up online for what seems to be a free service but
in fact contains a fine-print statement that you agree to pay
a regular fee via your phone bill.

That’s bad enough. But with malware in play, this mobile phone
scam has a wicked, new twist. In this case, the virus you
install actually makes those expensive premium line and
overseas calls without you even knowing.

Malware has also been used recently in parts of southeast
Asia to transfer credits on prepaid phones to other mobiles,
without the user knowing.

Other Ways Scammers Use Cell Phones

On the other side of the coin, we’re seeing more and more
examples of how cell phones are being used as weapons in other

That’s because crooks can hide behind the cloak of anonymity
that mobile phones provide.

From untraceable numbers in bogus online classified ads
through the use of cell phone cameras to take surreptitious
security-related or even “peeping Tom” photos, criminals
really know how to exploit this technology for their own

How to Protect Yourself From Cell Phone Scams

So, what can you do to protect yourself against a cell phone
scam? Here are our top 7 tips:

  1. Install anti-virus software. Most of the big Internet
    security players have mobile versions of their software and
    most of them offer free trials.

  2. Scrutinize your bill every month. In particular look out
    for small payments, which the cell phone scam artist tries to
    sneak past you.

  3. Keep your cell phone number confidential when it is linked
    to your name, sharing it only with friends and relatives. Even
    think twice before putting it on a business card.

  4. Don’t use it for competition entries or other apparently
    “free” services. But, if you must do this, make sure you read
    every line of the fine print.

  5. Consider using “disposable” or prepaid cell phones, which
    limit your exposure to running up bills.

  6. Don’t take a cell phone number as proof of someone’s
    identity or, indeed, their honesty. If you can’t separately
    confirm the identity of someone who gives their cell number,
    don’t buy from or sell to them.

  7. Be vigilant when you see others using cell phones to take
    photos. If their behavior seems odd or unacceptable, try to
    memorize a description of them (don’t tackle them) and contact
    the police.

And, of course, take all possible steps to prevent your phone
from being stolen from your purse, your pocket, your desk, or
wherever — because that’s the quickest route to hefty phone
bills (which you may be responsible for) or cell phone
identity theft.

And if you’re an iPhone user, consider signing up for Apple’s
MobileMe service, which includes the ability to immediately
and remotely erase all the data from your iPhone in the event
that it does get stolen. (We’ve just enabled this feature on
our iPhones.)

If you order a new cell phone to be delivered by snail mail or
delivery, insist on, and be prepared to pay for, a signature
with the carrier on delivery. That way, it won’t be left at
your front doorstep while you’re out.

Used properly and protected effectively, a mobile phone is a
fantastic ally, which should be there to help you. After all,
you can even read Scambusters on it!

But remember it knows a lot about you, already costs you a
fair amount of money — and that makes it dynamite in the
hands of a cell phone scam merchant!

That’s all we have for today, but we’ll be back next week with
another issue. See you then!