Experts: Text message scams trend with consumer spending - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Experts: Text message scams trend with consumer spending

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

By now, you or someone you know has probably received a text message congratulating you on winning a gift card to a major retailer.

According to consumer affairs experts and retailers, the names of stores like Best Buy, Walmart and Target have been used by scammers to try and lure consumers into giving up their private information for more than a year now.

The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs says December was its most active month for reports of text message giveaway scams. But if last year was any indicator of activity, tax refund season may produce another spike in the phony giveaways.

Retailers say while they have no connection to the scams, the frequency in which people receive the texts seems to come in waves, and it's usually when consumers are spending more money. At the Best Buy in Lexington, they say the constantly get questions about the messages.

"People walking into the store, it happens about once a week, and they'll come in and ask to speak to someone and sometimes even show us the text message," said Mechelle Carey, the general manager at the Lexington store.

Carey says she's seen the text message quite often, and even her son has asked about it. "My 13-year-old got a text message and was like, 'Hey, is this real?'," said Carey. "So, it impacts us too."

So how do scammers get your cell phone number?

"Sometimes it's just a robo-dial or auto-dial type thing, and sometimes scammers will share lists/distribution lists," said Juliana Harris with the Department of Consumer Affairs. Harris says the worst thing to do is to respond to a questionable message that's from someone you don't know. "If you are responding and engaging with the scammer that often tells them there's a live body on that line, so they're going to keep that number," she added.

Harris says the messages will often lead to a website looking for your personal information, and sometimes scammers just want access to your device.

"Our phones are like mini-computers," said Harris. "So if you're clicking on these links it could be infecting your phone with something that is recording information or something of that nature."

Harris recommends downloading a free virus software for your smartphone. "If you do happen to accidentally hit on that link, then you can run a scan immediately after and see what's going on on your phone," she said.

Consumer affairs experts add it's a good idea to keep a check of your cell phone record. Also remember if a major retailer contacts you, it will be through a way you won't question. "We contact you through the ways you have given us to contact you, your Reward Zone and things like that," said Carey. "You can always call us, and we'll make sure to validate whether that's a true offer or not."

Experts say it's not just smartphones that receive these phony messages. They add cell phones that don't link to the web are just as vulnerable, and in some cases consumers will then type in the link to the phony website on their home computer to try and claim ‘their prize.'  Consumer affairs experts say a person may then be opening up their computer to a virus.

Harris recommends if you do get one of these messages, the best thing to do is to forward it to your cell phone provider at 7726 (SPAM). She says the FCC keeps track of the phone numbers that scam messages are sent from.

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