No matter what you do, spam texts always seem to get through. But how do they know your phone number and even your name? More importantly, how can you stop them?
We looked into how spam texts find your number and name and the signs you need to watch out for to know that a message is spam.
We looked at reputable sources on online safety and gathered the best tips on how you can prevent those spam texts from coming through altogether before they start causing bigger problems like identity theft.
We also checked official sources from mobile carriers and government agencies to know how to report spam texts or scams.
The last thing you want is to eventually end up compromising your information. Keep reading until the end to find out the best line of defense you can set up against spam texts.
How do spam texts find your name and phone number?
Spam texts are unsolicited messages sent to your phone, often for commercial purposes. And chances are, you’ve received a spam text before.
Maybe it was an offer for a free cruise or a too-good-to-be-true deal on airplane tickets. But how did they find your phone number? And how do they know your name?
As it turns out, there are a few ways that spammers can get your personal information. Some of these include:
Spoofing is when a spammer fakes a caller ID to show a different number than the one the call is actually coming from. They can do this manually, but more often, they use automated systems.
These systems send out large numbers of calls or texts with randomly generated caller ID numbers. Eventually, one of these numbers will match a real person’s name and phone number.
When this happens, the person whose information was used will start receiving spam calls or texts. While this may seem like a rare occurrence, it happens more often than you might think. Spoofing is so common that the Federal Communications Commission has laws against it.
List busting is a process whereby telemarketers and other unsolicited marketers purchase lists of phone numbers from third-party sources.
These third-party sources are often referred to as data brokers, companies that collect and sell personal information. They may have bought your contact information from another source. They may have also gathered it themselves through sites like social media or online surveys.
The lists that data brokers provide often contain protected personal information, such as names and addresses. Once spammers have a list of phone numbers, they then use automated programs to send out mass text messages.
The result is a barrage of spam texts for everyone on the list.
Using gated content
This means that they put an offer behind a form that requires you to enter your name and phone number before you can see it.
For example, you might see an advertisement for a free e-book but have to enter your contact information before you can download it. Once you’ve entered your information, the spammer now has your details and can start sending you text messages.
In most cases, spam text messages are sent out by automated programs that scour the internet for phone numbers.
These programs, known as “scrapers,” sift through publicly available sources of information, such as website contact forms, social media profiles, and online directories. Once a scraper finds a phone number, it can then add it to a database that spammers can buy or use themselves.
In some cases, spammers may have obtained your phone number through a data breach.
When large companies experience data breaches, personal information, including phone numbers, can end up in the hands of criminals. Once these criminals have your phone number, they can then use it to send you unsolicited text messages.
The dark web
Many people are surprised to learn that their personal information is readily available on the dark web. This is the part of the internet that isn’t indexed by search engines and can only be accessed using special software.
Once on the dark web, it’s easy to find websites where people buy and sell personal information. This can include everything from credit card numbers to social security numbers.
However, one of the most common items for sale is phone numbers. By searching for a person’s name and phone number on the dark web, it’s possible to find a trove of information that criminals can use for spamming purposes.
This includes text message spam, robocalls, and even phishing attacks.
How do you know if a text is spam?
It’s not always easy to spot a spam text message. They often look very similar to regular texts, with just a few subtle differences. Here are some red flags that may indicate a text is spam:
1. You don’t know the sender
If you don’t recognize the number or email address of the sender, it’s best to be cautious. Many spam texts come from spoofed numbers, which can be difficult to identify.
2. The subject line is vague
Spammers often use generic subject lines like “Important message” or “Alert.” If you’re not expecting a message from the sender, be wary of these types of texts.
3. There are typos or grammatical errors
Spammers often rush to send out their messages, leading to errors in the text. If you see any typos or grammatical errors, it’s a good indication that the message is spam.
4. The message includes a sense of urgency
Spammers will often try to create a sense of urgency by stating that the offer in the text is only available for a limited time.
They might tell you that you have a pending package that you need to claim quickly or that you’ve won a certain sum of money, but you’ll need to respond to the text message to claim it. In some cases, they might even tell you that your bank is closing your account or that your debit card will soon be locked unless you perform a specific action.
These are all tactics that’ll get you to respond quickly without thinking about whether or not the message is legitimate.
What should you do if you receive spam texts?
If you start receiving spam texts, there are a few steps you can take to stop them:
Block the sender
By blocking the sender’s number, you can ensure that you’ll never receive another spam text from them again.
To do this, simply open the message and tap on the sender’s name. This will bring up their contact information. At the bottom of the screen, tap on “Block this Caller.” This will add their number to your blocked list and stop any future texts from coming through.
Of course, blocking a number isn’t always possible, particularly if the spammer is using a “burner” phone. At the very least, however, it’ll prevent that specific number from sending you another message.
Report the message
You can also report spam texts to your phone carrier. They’ll then take appropriate action, which may include blocking the number or reporting it to the authorities.
AT&T customers, for example, can forward spam texts to 7726 (which spells out “SPAM”). You can also report spam texts and spoofing scams to the Federal Trade Commission or the Federal Communications Commission.
Opt-out of unwanted messages
In some cases, you may be able to reply “STOP” or “UNSUBSCRIBE” to opt-out of receiving future messages from the sender. However, this will only work if the sender is using a legitimate mass texting service.
Change your number
If you’re receiving a large number of spam texts, you may want to consider changing your phone number. This will stop the messages from coming in, but it’s a drastic measure that should only be used as a last resort.
Preventing spam texts in the future
There are a few things you can do to reduce the chances of receiving spam texts in the future:
- Be cautious with your personal information
If you’re not sure whether you want to receive messages from a particular person or organization, it’s best not to give them your number.
Many websites will sell your information to third-party marketers, which can lead to an influx of spam texts. Once your number is out there, it’s hard to control who has it and who doesn’t.
- Check your privacy settings
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have privacy settings that allow you to control who can see your contact information. By restricting access to your information, you can reduce the chances of receiving spam texts.
- Install an anti-spam app
There are many apps available that can help block spam texts and calls. This can be a helpful option if you’re constantly bombarded with unwanted messages.
- Don’t respond to spam texts
This can confirm your number as active and lead to even more spam messages
- Use a texting app with filtering options
These apps can help screen out messages from unknown numbers, as well as flag known spam numbers. This way, you can be sure that the texts you’re receiving are from people you actually know.
- Pay attention to opt-out options
These are available when you sign up for new services. Many companies will include an option to opt out of receiving marketing messages, and exercising this option can help to reduce the amount of spam you receive.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, be aware of the types of messages that are typically considered spam. If you receive a text that asks you to click on a link, reply to the message, or provide personal information, it’s likely a spam text.
Having this knowledge and awareness will help you make sure that even if those spam texts do come through, they can’t cause you any harm. When it comes to these messages, the only action you should take is to delete them without opening them or responding to them.
Spam texts are a nuisance, but there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of receiving them. Be cautious with your personal information, check privacy settings, and install an anti-spam app. If you do receive spam messages, don’t respond to them and delete them immediately.
Remember that your best line of defense against spam texts is yourself. Knowing how spammers get your number and learning how to recognize spam texts from legitimate ones is key to making sure that they cannot cause you any damage.