How to Avoid the Top Text Message Scam Putting Your Cash at Risk

Ruth Sarreal
By Ruth Sarreal 
Updated
Edited by Tim Manni

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The Federal Trade Commission recently revealed the most reported text message scam: bank impersonations.

Reports of bank impersonations by text in 2022 jumped to 20 times the number reported in 2019. According to the FTC, consumers reported a loss of more than $330 million to text message scams in 2022. And cash that’s lost because of bank fraud or scams isn’t covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. or National Credit Union Administration.

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Banks are a safe place to keep your money, but there are still a few basic but important precautions you can take to ensure you don’t fall for a bank-impersonation text scam. Here’s how to protect your money from text message scams impersonating your financial institution.

Don't make money moves under pressure

Text message scammers will try to make you feel like action is required immediately — at the risk of losing your money. It may come as an urgent message warning you to call or click on a link because of alleged suspicious activity.

“Any type of pressure tactic is not legitimate — that is not your bank,” says Paul Benda, senior vice president of operational risk and cybersecurity at the American Bankers Association. As with any decision about your finances, avoid taking actions when you feel scared, stressed out or pressured.

Don't click on any links from an unsolicited message

If you receive a text message you’re not expecting, be wary — especially if it looks like it might be from your bank.

In a recent poll by security experts at Security.org, 66% of respondents said that they had received a suspicious text from someone they didn’t know, and about 20% clicked on links texted from strangers, which is never advisable. “Look at any type of unsolicited communication very cautiously,” says Benda.

Major banks were popular choices for scammers to impersonate in 2022. According to the FTC, the most common scam text messages often claimed to be from large banks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase and Citibank.

Don't call a phone number that's texted to you

Just as you shouldn’t click on a link texted to you from someone you don’t know, don’t click on or dial a phone number you receive in a text. Instead, find the official phone number for your bank by going to its website or mobile app. Initiate contact with your financial institution at its official phone number to ensure you’re talking to a legitimate representative, and verify whether there actually is an issue.

“Making that phone call can be the difference between getting scammed versus not getting scammed,” says Tremaine Wills, a financial advisor and founder of Mind Over Money, a financial literacy company in Newport News, Virginia.

One particular kind of text scam resulted in a median loss of $3,000 in 2022, according to the FTC: a text from someone impersonating your bank, instructing you to reply with a “Yes” or “No” to confirm or deny a suspicious transaction. Once you replied, the scammer would call you under the guise of helping you. Their ultimate goal was to either fraudulently transfer money out of your account or obtain personal information such as a Social Security number.

What to do if you were unable to avoid a scam

If you should happen to fall for a text scammer impersonating your bank, there are a few critical steps to take.

First, alert your bank to the incident and get its help in making sure no more money leaves your account fraudulently. Next, report the scam to local law enforcement. Those first two actions are key for trying to recover any cash that was wrongfully taken from your account.

Finally, file a complaint with the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and/or report the instance to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. The FTC also recommends that you forward suspicious text messages to 7726, which helps wireless providers identify and intercept similar text messages. You can also report and block suspicious text messages within your messaging app.

Having a good idea of your account activity is a key part of protecting your money from scams.

“Have a regular practice of knowing what’s going on with your account,” says Wills. If you’re not completely sure of what’s happening in your account, then you might be more likely to be alarmed by a text message claiming to be from your bank, she says.

» LEARN: Best practices for online banking security

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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