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'Smishing' scams targeting wireless users

April 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's getting rough in the world of wireless technology.

More than 300 million people in the United States have wireless devices and many use mobile apps to bank, trade stock, even track their tax refund.

Responding to the wrong message or downloading the wrong app on a cellphone or tablet could be costly. It's a growing concern for cellphone providers and wireless security companies who intercept spam and suspicious texts daily.

"It could be as serious as a significant financial loss if they are able to access their bank account," said Jamie de Guerre, chief technology officer at Cloudmark, an online security provider.

How do the scams work? It's called Smishing, combined from SMS and phishing. Criminals try to swipe personal info via text messages. For example, users may get a text claiming to be from a credit union asking to be called at a number.

"When you call the number, they're actually looking to scam you out of your personal information," said John Walls of the CTIA the Wireless Association.

Another example of this is receiving a text claiming to be from a friend that asks you to download an "incredible media player." When the user downloads it, security experts say their screen will blink because they just downloaded mobile malware. That could allow hackers to monitor their accounts or send high-priced text messages from their phone, running up their bill.

So how can users protect themselves?

  • Before downloading an app, they should check out reviews and make sure it seems reputable.
  • If an app asks for a lot of permissions to access information, that's a big red flag.
  • Don't respond to texts that appear to be from their bank. Contact the bank on the phone or at a branch to make sure.
  • Be suspicious of any text asking to text, email or call in personal information.
  • Don't download an app from a link in a text.

"Just as we learned in the PC world how to take measures to protect ourselves, a lot of those same steps and lessons can be applied to wireless to keep yourself out of trouble," Walls said.

Users should also make sure their phone is up to date with the latest software so they've got current protection against any new threats.