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For your safety: understanding computer terms for illegal activity, “smishing”

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Last week’s article about phishing explained it’s a computer term for illegally getting personal information using phone calls and emails to contact potential victims. Today, the topic is the similar-sounding, “smishing.” What is it?

The name comes from a combination of “SMS” (text messaging) and “phishing.” It’s the same goal: to capture your personal information. The difference is the method used.

Smishers send text messages en masse, using titles designed to grab the recipient’s attention. Some are threatening: “Visit this URL to avoid being charged $5 per day.” Others use fake incentives: “You’ve won a free gift card. Visit this site to claim your prize.”

The explosion of smart phone popularity triggered the rapid rise of smishing. That’s because most of these devices have Internet browsers, which gives the user the ability to click on a link provided in a text message. This gets the potential victim to its web page.

That’s how text messages become effective “bait” vehicles. They quickly ensnare innocent users, getting them directly to fraudulent websites. Remember, these crooks are very adept at hijacking authentic websites and/or creating bogus ones that look amazingly legitimate.

Cyber-criminals normally send out huge numbers of these messages at a time, typically using an Internet text relay service. It’s more efficient, and also helps them hide their identity. Luckily, many cell phone companies allow clients to enable a feature that blocks Internet-origin texts. Furthermore, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at “www.econsumer.gov.”

More good remedies for smishing include: (1) ignore any texts providing links, especially when their origin is unknown. (2) Never reply to messages offering any sort of opt-out options (because it tells scammers this is an active phone number); and (3) always forward the text to a number that spells, “spam” on the keypad, 7726.

There are other ways to combat smishing. Phone security software adds more layers of protection. According to Digital Trends, the top three are “360 Mobile Security,” “Avast! Mobile Security,” and “ESET Mobile Security & Antivirus.” All three are available at Google Play, and the first and third are also at Amazon. The best part is all three are completely free!

Always be wary of any type message that asks for even the smallest amount of personal information. For cyber-crooks, that seemingly irrelevant piece of the puzzle can be used to get the rest of your profile.

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