Con Watch: Sorry, Wrong Number

If you get a text message that was obviously meant for someone else, don’t answer it. Your desire to do the right thing will only get you into big trouble.


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Steve Weisman is a lawyer, college professor, author, and one of the country’s leading experts in cybersecurity, identity theft, and scams. See Steve’s other Con Watch articles.

In 2021, two trillion text messages were sent in the United States, and, as always, anything popular with the general public is also very popular with scammers. While the number of text messages sent in the United States doubled between the years 2015 and 2020, the number of illegal robotext messages blocked by wireless service providers increased from 1.4 billion in 2015 to 14 billion in 2020.

Text message scams use a wide variety of schemes including claims of unpaid bills, difficulties with package delivery, problems with your bank account, and more. The list is limited only by the imagination of the scammers, which has proven to have no limit.

One of the more recent incarnations starts innocuously when you receive a text message that is obviously intended for someone else. It may indicate that the time for a scheduled meeting has changed or even use a name that isn’t yours, like “Jim, give me a call.”

Wanting to be responsible, people who receive these text messages obviously intended for someone else will text the sender back informing them that their original message had been sent to the wrong number. At this point, the scammer will use this contact to start a conversation.

Often these phony text messages aren’t even coming from a real person, but are sent by a bot programmed to give specific responses. The scams involved with these text messages are many, but they all start with establishing a relationship with the targeted victim so that they begin to trust the con artist. At this point, the scammer may ask for personal information that can be used to make the target a victim of identity theft. In other instances, they will lure the mark into clicking on a malware-infected link under some pretense. In yet another version of the scam, they will use the text message to advance a romance scam and either eventually ask for money or compromising photos that would later be used for blackmail purposes.

These phony text messages have also been used to lure people into cryptocurrency scams. In this new trend, the FBI warns, the scammer first develops a romantic relationship with the newly found friend. After building a level of trust, they tell the victim that they have inside knowledge about cryptocurrency investing and direct the them to a phony cryptocurrency trading site. The targeted victim may find that the funds they deposit appear to make a profit, which provides the incentive to invest more money. At some point, the criminal takes the money and runs.

This scam originated in China in 2019 and is called sha zhu pan, or pig butchering in English. The name is derived from the practice of luring in victims and then “fattening them up” by convincing them to continually invest more money.

This is an easy scam to avoid. Never provide personal information — particularly sensitive personal or financial information — to someone who you have not met personally. Never invest in anything that you do not completely understand; thoroughly research not only the investment, but also the people offering the investment.

If you get a text message that appears to be sent to you as a wrong number, don’t respond at all. You also should block the number from your phone. If your mobile service provider is AT&T, Verizon Wireless, or T-Mobile, forward the message to SPAM (7726) and report it as spam.

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  1. Additionally, people have been tricked into taking part in bitcoin scams via these bogus text messages. Even at odd hours of the night, the majority of calls are spam. It’s frightful, so be cautious!

  2. Oh, I’m very careful about texts and answering that damn iPhone at all anymore!

    Mainly junk calls, even in the middle of the night (which is illegal 9pm-8am local time). So yeah, it’s on vibrate/silent ‘round the clock.


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