Experts are warning cellphone users after record-high reports of British Columbians being tricked by text message scams.
Texting-related hoaxes jumped 600 per cent in 2012 from the previous year, while B.C. residents racked up $7,700 in losses, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Mark Fernandes, with B.C.’s Better Business Bureau, said the situation is alarming.
“Previous to last year there wasn’t very much activity at all, and then all of a sudden we’re seeing a huge spike,” said Mr. Fernandes.
He chalked the increased number of cons up to a growing number of smartphone users as well as a rise in people accessing social media websites.
“Look up companies, see what the reviews are if you’re thinking of downloading any apps,” Mr. Fernandes advised.
“Most of the time [free stuff] probably is a scam unless you’ve signed up for a specific contest with a retailer. It’s not that they just randomly select people who have never shopped there or never signed up for a specific contest.”
Manjit Bains, who works with Consumer Protection BC, said there are several kinds of text message scams.
One form of fraud entices the user by promising a free gift card, cruise or vacation. The person must click a link and fill out personal information to claim what they are lead to believe will be their prize.
“People’s emotions can run pretty high, especially in the winter months,” Ms. Bains said. “So people are pretty excited in those situations and start clicking things.”
She said another common con occurs when messages come from a seemingly official source, asking the user to reply or take some kind of action that will ultimately prove to the scammer that the phone number is active.
“Others can just be all over the map,” said Ms. Bains. “They can be related to some gaming information or other things where they’re just trying to pique your interest and they want to get a reaction from you.”
She said the best thing to do is nothing at all — don’t click anything and forward the message to 7726 (SPAM on most keypads), which will notify the cellphone provider to block future messages.
“You immediately get into this mode of ‘oh my gosh, this is serious, right? I better do something because I want this to stop,’” Ms. Bains said. “Before you know it you’re in a whirlwind.”
Mr. Fernandes said people often wonder how they got on the “sucker list.”
According to him, scammers often find cellphone numbers on Facebook or use computer programs that randomly generate phone numbers and send out text messages.
He said organized crime is sometimes to blame, but often scammers are just Internet savvy.
“Recently, technology is making it more feasible for scammers to reach out to wider audiences.”
The federal government passed anti-spam legislation in 2010 that is not yet in place, but will eventually prohibit any electronic messages sent without a recipient’s consent, including text messages.
It will also allow for investigations into anyone who appears to break the new law.
Meanwhile, the American Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on text message scammers.
The FTC announced in early March that it charged 29 people for sending over 180 million unwanted texts.