Beware of cell phone message scams

Most of us are aware of the many potential threats of viruses, scams and identity theft that can occur when we go online with our computers. Now, those of us with cell phones must also be alert to similar attacks.

Chuck Drury

Chuck Drury

My wife and I both received suspicious text messages on our cell phones last week. She uses the Sprint service and I use Verizon. She received a text message that she would no longer be able to send photos and should contact a phone number. Mine was a text message that said my service was to be discontinued and I was also directed to respond.

Neither of us responded to the messages. Instead we checked and found that they were not from our phone companies. As we suspected, they were likely a scam.

Cell phone messages like ours sound like the old switcheroo. These calls come from a scammer who will be asking for information on your phone arrangement. That information is then used to switch you over to another phone service without your knowledge or approval. The biggest cell phone subscriber fraud is to get you to furnish details in your response that allows the scammer to open another account in your name. This is estimated to cost the industry over $150 million a year.

Crooks can use cell phone scanners to get your phone number and cell phone serial number when you respond to their call or text message. They can then program another phone with your information and make calls that are billed to your account.

There have been numerous cell phone scams. The worst can be identity theft. You could receive a message that appears to be from your bank, another business or even the Internal Revenue Service. It may claim there is a problem with your account and ask for personal information to clear it up. They may request numbers for your Social Security, credit card, calling card, bank account, etc. With the right information, the crook can clean you out financially.

There are several ways to eavesdrop on a cell phone. Certain legal software is available that can be installed on a cell phone. The crook can then dial in to listen to your calls, download your text messages and numbers dialed. The equipment even allows the person to remotely turn on the phone microphone and monitor sounds and conversations near the phone.

Many people use a Bluetooth short-range radio with their cell phones. What the user may not know is that another person standing nearby with a Bluetooth headset can listen in on the conversation.

There are several things that you can do to avoid cell phone scams. One of the most important is never save financial or personal information on your cell phone. This is even more important as we move toward using cell phones to make charges in stores, in place of standard plastic credit or debit cards.

Hang on to your cell phone! It is estimated that three million cell phones are lost or stolen each year. Scambusters.com reports that one victim got hit with a $26,000 phone bill for unauthorized calls. Phones that fall into the wrong hands can also be mined for personal and financial data. If you lose a phone, contact your phone company immediately and have it disabled so that others cannot use it.

Do not respond to an offer to install free anti-virus software on your phone. It could be a scam that installs spyware. Get security software only from your cell phone app store.

Don’t download ringtones from anyplace other than your own phone company!

Some free ringtones have been known to install a virus that can damage the phone or steal your confidential information. Others can be used to make calls at your expense.

Never respond to a text or voice massage unless you know for sure whom it is from. If you get a message purporting to be from your bank, credit card, etc., hang up and call their number directly.

The text messages that my wife and I received have alerted us to the potential for cell phone fraud. I suspect that we are only beginning to see some of the risks to cell phone security. It appears very similar to the security risks with computers several years ago. The best advice is to be alert!

Chuck Drury is an Anoka resident, retired engineer and former technical director of Federal Cartridge Company.

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