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Worrying trends emerging in mobile text messaging and malware

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Cell phone receiving Several new trends in fraud perpetrated via mobile phones are making it more important than ever for consumers to educate themselves about these next-generation scams.

According to security firm Symantec, 31 percent of mobile users have received a text message from someone they didn’t know asking them to click on a fishy link or dial an unknown number. According to security firm Cloudmark, during the first week of September, text messaging (or SMS) phishing attempts increased by 913 percent, making this type of scam the single largest SMS messaging threat. In a typical SMS phishing scam, the consumer receives a text message purportedly from their bank, credit card company or even a health service provider. In each case, the consumer is asked to divulge sensitive personal information that can be used by the scammer to perpetrate fraud or identity theft.

While there’s no foolproof way to avoid these phishing attempts, consumers can take some steps to mitigate the risk:

  • First, don’t share your cell phone number widely, particularly on Web sites that ask for your number as part of a survey or sweepstakes.
  • Second, never click on suspicious links in text messages, particularly if they come from unknown or unfamiliar senders.
  • Third, many wireless carriers offer spam controls that can reduce unwanted text messages. Consumers should contact their carrier to get details. In extreme cases, you could even turn off the ability to receive all text messages.

Consumers can also help report suspicious text messages by forwarding them to 7726.

Malware threats

Smartphone users should also be aware of the increasing prevalence of malicious software, called "malware" for short. Mobile security firm Lookout predicts that four in ten American mobile users will click on an unsafe link this year. This unsafe clicking can lead to so-called “toll fraud” where consumers are billed for premium SMS services, often without their knowledge. According to Lookout, in the first quarter of 2012, toll fraud malware surpassed spyware as the most prevalent form of mobile malware. It is estimated that more than six million people were affected by mobile malware on Android phones from June 2011-June 2012 alone.

Consumers can take steps to protect themselves from mobile malware:

  • First, don’t click on suspicious Web links from your phone’s browser.
  • Second, be wary when downloading apps from independent app stores or unfamiliar sites.
  • Third, pay close attention to your monthly wireless bill and dispute any suspicious charge.
  • Finally, consider installing a mobile security app, which will scan new apps and can protect you from unsafe sites.

Consumers who have been a victim of SMS or mobile malware fraud should report these scams to NCL at Fraud.org.

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