The text came late Tuesday. Like others I’ve received recently, it wasn’t an obvious scam to begin with – no promise of a guarantee or that I’d won a prize, no link to a suspicious website – rather it appeared to be a frantic message for someone else definitely.
It’s the type of text message that has become commonplace for almost everyone with a smartphone.
“Una, good evening, tomorrow morning the contract time will move from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for signing, I’m not feeling well, I have to go to the hospital to see the doctor tomorrow morning”
I replied that it was the wrong number. Of course that wasn’t the end of it. The person on the other end, “Anna,” started a conversation.
Within minutes she offered to help me invest in cryptocurrency.
So-called fake number scams — in which scammers send massive amounts of conspicuous but harmless text — have become the daily introduction for scammers looking for people to extort money from. If the recipients respond, scammers will try to build relationships with the potential victims and eventually convince them to give away their savings under the false impression that they are investing in cryptocurrency.
Erin West, the assistant district attorney in charge of Santa Clara County, California’s High-Tech Crimes Division, said “accidental” text messages have become one of the most common new ways to trick people into the same crypto scams that are being used I’ve followed her office for several years.
“Some are like, ‘Hey, can I schedule my dog in your salon?'” said West, a top crypto fraud prosecutor. “They expand the way they implicate you in the same scam. They are all scams and I think they are all crypto investment scams.”
There are no definitive statistics on how widespread such scams have become. But the Federal Trade Commission is tracking spam and fraud complaints, and 2022 is on track to be the first year that more people have reported scammers contacting them via text messages rather than phones, said Juliana Gruenwald, a spokeswoman for the agency .
The scams do not indicate any security issues with people’s smartphones or personal information, although there is no reliable way to block them. The Federal Communications Commission, which a warning on spam and scam texts on Thursday, said ignoring these messages is the most effective way to ensure you are not being scammed.
Chester Wisniewski, a senior research scientist at cybersecurity firm Sophos, which has investigated several such cases, said scammers tend to persuade victims to switch their conversations to the Telegram messaging app, and then slowly persuade them to downloading an unverified investment app that claims to store cryptocurrency with incredible returns.
“It’s like, ‘Jeff, call me,’ and you’re like, ‘What? I’m obviously not Jeff,'” Wisniewski said.
“But they are looking for commitment. As long as you answer, they can start the conversation,” he said.
Scammers even persuade their victims to send small amounts of crypto that they can withdraw to prove the system is legit, and then encourage them to invest more, Wisniewski said. Only after victims attempt to withdraw large investments do they realize they have been scammed.
While most people don’t fall for such scams — the FTC estimates for this year found that 6% of people who reported text message scams actually lost money — those who fall victim can lose enormous amounts of money.
An FBI warning issued last week found that at least 244 people have lost a total of $42.7 million from such fake crypto investment scams since the end of last year.
One victim, an American who agreed to speak only on the condition that his name not be published because he feared it could hurt his business prospects, said he lost half a million dollars to the scheme .
“It’s really painful based on the dollar value. I’m really disappointed in myself but at the same time very impressed with the girl who tricked me into doing this,” he said.
He said he started speaking to a scammer earlier this year who sent him a single message – “Hello” – out of the blue – and waited for him to reply saying she had the wrong number before continuing. The scammer, who claimed to be a younger woman who had recently moved to the US, spoke to him over the phone a number of times and persuaded him to switch the conversation to Telegram. During their weeks of conversations, he agreed to invest more and more money before realizing he was on hold.
“I want to say that she waited 20 days and a thousand text messages before she started investing,” he said.
“I had a bad stomach. I just played on a card table, like red or black on a roulette wheel, $500,000, and I hit the wrong number,” he said. “And I’m no weather. I’m kind of a curmudgeon.”
https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/security/wrong-number-text-scam-rcna39793 “Wrong number” SMS scams are on the rise