What Is Smishing? How to Talk to Your Kid About Smishing

Girl looking at phone under blanket in dark

No, that’s not a typo. We don’t mean phishing. Smishing — phishing’s younger sibling — is an increasingly common form of cyberattack and one parents need to know about so they can help their kids stay safe. But what is smishing? Read on to learn what this scam entails and how to prevent it from happening to your child. 

What is smishing? 

Like phishing, smishing is when a scammer sends a message attempting to steal information or money. But instead of using email, smishing is conducted over text. 

Smishing gained its moniker because texting is also known as SMS (short message services). Scammers send messages, often including a link, to elicit the recipient to provide personal information. 

Smishing is a relatively new phenomenon and one that’s on the rise. As spam filters have become increasingly sophisticated, it’s now much harder for email and phone scams to reach their intended targets. People are also much more likely to click on texts than they are email links. “Smishers” know this and take full advantage. 

Examples of smishing scams

There are a number of common smishing scams. Here are a few that are most likely to fool kids:

Pretending to be locked out of an account

These scams use multifactor authentication (MFA) to commit fraud. For smishers to pull this off, they must first obtain a victim’s username and password. Then, they pose as someone the victim knows, claiming to be locked out of their Instagram or Facebook account. They ask the victim to receive the code for them and pass it on. 

Posing as customer support

Smishers may pretend to be customer service agents, choosing trusted brands like Amazon, Microsoft, or the victim's wireless provider to try and catch the target off guard. It’s common for these messages to claim there’s a problem with the victim’s account or that they’re owed a refund or other unclaimed reward. These texts typically include a link that routes the victim to a fake website. There, the person is prompted to enter their credit card or banking information. 

Pretending to text the wrong number

Scammers play the long game on this one, often over months or even years. They send a text that looks like it’s meant for someone else. When the victim responds that it’s the wrong number, the smisher strikes up a text conversation with the victim, attempting to gain their trust, friendship, or romantic affection. They then try to steal the victim’s money with a bogus request like asking to borrow money for a personal emergency.

Posing as a shipper

For this type of scam, smishers pretend to be a common shipping company and claim there was an issue delivering a package. They say the recipient must pay a “delivery fee” or sign in to their account in order to get their package. Of course, the links go to fake sites where the smishers take the money or account information and disappear. 

Pretending to offer free apps

All those apps your teen likes to download could open them up to scams. Sometimes, smishers try to trick people into downloading seemingly legitimate apps that are actually malware or ransomware

How to talk to your child about smishing

It’s critical that parents talk to their child about smishing and other scams and teach them how to protect themselves. Here are some talking points:

  • Look at the URL. If a URL doesn’t match the website of the company the text is claiming to be from, that’s a red flag.
  • Check the spelling. Misspelled words in the URL or on the website itself are an indicator it might be a scam. 
  • Keep passwords under wraps. Teach your child they should never share their password with anyone (except their parents). 
  • Don’t share personal information. Talk with your kid about the importance of not sharing any personal information online or over text. 

In addition to talking to kids about online safety, parents should also monitor their child’s phone to watch for any red flags. BrightCanary uses advanced technology to scan your child’s texts and let you know if there’s a problem.

What to do if your child is a victim of smishing

If you think your child has been the victim of a smishing (or any type of scam), it’s important to report it. Here’s how:

  • For sextortion or other forms of abuse: Contact the your local FBI field office or call 1-800-CALL-FBI or report it online tips.fbi.gov.
  • For financial scams: Contact your bank and report the scam. Ask your bank to reverse the charges, then report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission. You can report the scam online or by calling 1-877-382-4357.

The bottom line

Smishing scams are on the rise. In comparison to phishing, which can take place over email or phone, smishing happens over text messages. Parents need to be aware of them so they can help their kids stay protected. 

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