If You Get These Texts, Delete Them Immediately

Updated: Jul. 14, 2024

Scammers are getting sneakier, so you have to be smarter to stay safe. Here are the newest scam text messages to watch out for.

Pop quiz: How many times has someone tried to scam you today? Beyond the spammy emails and phone calls, take a look at your texts. Chances are, there are a few scam text messages mixed in—and you weren’t sure if some of them were legitimate messages or not. As we change the way we use technology (nope, not answering an actual call!), scam texts are becoming cybercriminals’ preferred mode of attack. In fact, spam texts now surpass spam calls in frequency, and since March 2024 alone, Americans received 19.2 billion of them, according to a study by SlickText. Even worse? The FTC reports that people lost $10 billion to these so-called smishing scams in 2023.

“Scam text messages often pretend to be reputable companies to steal your personal information,” says fraud expert Dawn Sarno, director of the AVANT Lab at Clemson University. “They will include real company logos, threaten you to respond within a deadline, scare you into thinking you will lose money or offer you things that are too good to be true.” Even as a longtime tech journalist who specializes in cybersecurity issues, I occasionally do a double-take when I get one of these messages.

So how can you stay safe from smishing attacks? By being aware of the telltale signs that a text isn’t what it seems. To help you figure out what’s real and what’s not, I spoke with Sarno and Rachel Tobac, a hacking expert and the CEO of SocialProof Security. Ahead, these digital privacy experts will identify 2024’s most common scam texts—and help you stay safe with a few essential tech tips.

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Bank text scam

Scam Text Messages Gettyimages 1RD.com, Getty Images

Issues with your bank account are a huge cause for concern—you need to be able to access your money and want to ensure it remains safe and secure. That’s why spam texts disguised as bank alerts were the most popular types of scam text messages in 2023, according to SlickText.

This type of scam involves impersonating your bank, leveraging its authority and creating a sense of urgency that your money or ability to access it is in trouble. Because it’s so high stakes, people are susceptible to clicking a link or calling a phony number without giving it a second thought. “These fear-based attacks are often successful because they mimic real scenarios we have to worry about on a daily basis,” Tobac tells Reader’s Digest. FYI, Wells Fargo text scams are particularly prevalent.

Pro tip

On their websites, banks including Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America state that they never ask for personal information such as your online banking password, pin or account information through a text, so you can rest assured that if you get a text like this, it is a scam. Contact the bank directly if you have any questions about your account.

USPS text message scam

Scam Text Messages Gettyimages 2RD.com, Getty Images

Text messages posing as alerts about your package delivery—often impersonating the USPS, UPS or FedEx—were another one of the most popular text scams last year. They also work similarly to bank scams, posing as an institution you trust (like the post office) and creating a sense of urgency that you need to address something important to you (an issue with a package). Some of these texts will alternatively say your package has been delivered, playing on your excitement to receive a package, or in the case you didn’t order anything, preying on your curiosity to know what it is.

“Cybercriminals pretend to be anyone that you’re likely to believe and take action on,” Tobac says. “If you’re used to seeing texts from delivery companies, coupons from meal-delivery services, etc., then the attacker will pretend to be from that group to trick you into clicking, divulging sensitive information, passwords, money and more.” If you don’t want to get hacked, don’t fall for it!

Free gift text scam

Scam Text Messages Gettyimages 3RD.com, Getty Images

Whereas bank and delivery scams often try to convince you there’s a problem you need to urgently address, free-gift scams are meant to entice you with the promise of something you’d want.

“Scammers will promise targets they’ll receive free prizes, coupons or gift cards if they click a link within a text message,” explains Sarno. “These are effective because potential victims are distracted by the promise of gaining something and ignore the important indicators that the message is a scam.”

This type of message was also hugely popular in 2023, accounting for 9% of all text scams, according to SlickText.

Overdue toll charge text scam

Scam Text Messages Gettyimages 4RD.com, Getty Images

This is a newer scam that’s been going around in 2024. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued a consumer alert with the following straightforward warning: “That text about overdue toll charges is probably a scam.” According to Sarno, these emerging text message scams also often include warnings that you need to pay immediately to avoid a late fee. Like many other text message scams, it creates a sense of urgency to get you to act.

“The text message will include a link to have you fill out personal information like your bank account or credit card, license plate number, and name and address,” Sarno says. So pay attention to those sorts of scammer red flags.

Job offer text scam

Scam Text Messages Gettyimages 5RD.com, Getty Images

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This age-old sentiment is important to keep in mind when looking out for any type of scam, and it’s part of the technique that makes the phony job offer text scam so effective. Last year, phony job offer messages accounted for 8% of all text scams, according to SlickText.

Often, these texts promise jobs with lucrative pay and flexibility, such as working on your own schedule from home. Other times, instead of a work-from-home scam, the job just sounds like a dream, offering you to get paid to shop or work with luxury merchandise. For those who are unemployed, having trouble finding work or simply unhappy at their current jobs, the promise of a fantastic opportunity may cause them to let their guard down and pursue the bogus opportunity.

Like other types of scam messages, the goal is often to get you to divulge personal information they can use to steal your identity. Scammers may also convince you to send payment for a computer and other equipment you’ll need for work, promising you’ll get reimbursed soon.

If you think the job might really be legit, do your research. “Look up the name of the company or the person who’s hiring you, plus the words ‘scam,’ ‘review’ or ‘complaint,'” the FTC says. But inputting any information over text is not advised.

Student loan forgiveness text scam

Scam Text Messages Gettyimages 6RD.com, Getty Images

Student loan forgiveness would be life-changing for many, so it’s no surprise scammers are dangling it in front of people to steal their information. Like the scams saying you’ve won an amazing prize or reward, it’s effective because people are so enticed by what the message promises that they ignore the red flags. Often, this type of scam text message also creates a sense of urgency, stating that enrollments are “first come, first served.”

“Hearing a lot about federal student loan forgiveness in the news? You’re not alone—scammers are too,” states an FTC consumer alert from April. The agency warns to not be fooled by official-looking government logos and to never share your FSA ID login information.

Amazon text scam

Scam Text Messages Gettyimages 7RD.com, Getty Images

Amazon is another trusted entity scammers often impersonate. Similar to other scam text messages, these messages usually say there’s been a security issue with your account. They might threaten that if you don’t secure your account within a certain time frame, your account will be deleted. Another approach is to frame the message similar to the real two-factor authentication messages Amazon will send when you log in.

“This is a successful tactic because most targets have an Amazon account and are worried about the security of their account,” Sarno says. “Often, these scams will have victims click on a link within the email to ‘secure’ their account.” Once you click the link, she explains, you will most likely be taken to a webpage that looks like Amazon to sign in. But in reality, it’s a fake webpage meant to trick you into divulging your account information.

In 2023, messages posing as Amazon accounted for 7% of all text message scams, according to SlickText.

Wrong number text scam

Scam Text Messages Gettyimages 8RD.com, Getty Images

Another category of spam text messages involves strangers who try to strike up a friendly conversation. Sometimes they address the text to another name, act as if they’ve gotten the wrong number and then transition into trying to get you to engage in a conversation. Other times, they act like they know you, preying on your curiosity of who this person is that you can’t seem to remember, in order to get you to chat. These conversations start off innocent, but over time, the scammer works to get you to divulge personal information or send them money.

As you may have guessed, this often leads to romance scams. “People fall for these scams because there is an epidemic of loneliness that has only increased since the pandemic—where many folks have found themselves isolated, without others to talk to and with the desire to forge real human connections,” Tobac explains. “Attackers start with an ‘oops wrong number’ text and then take their time telling their sob story, building rapport or building a romantic connection. Later down the line, they’ll then ask for money, sensitive personal details or photos to blackmail with.”

What to do if you receive a suspicious text

It’s important to be wary of any text that doesn’t come from a contact in your phone. Never click on a suspicious text, open any attachments or download any files, which could infect your phone with a virus. If you receive anything that looks suspicious, we have two words for you: delete and report. “If you think a text message is suspicious, report it right away,” Sarno says. “For instance, Apple has an option under text messages that you can report the message as junk.”

You can also report the message to the FTC or FCC. These government agencies have been increasingly cracking down on scam text messages, as well as scam calls and other types of fraud. “Reporting these messages is crucial for information-security professionals,” Sarno says. “It alerts them to new scams and allows them to block them in the future for other targets.”

Overall, remember this: If anything sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and if an official institution is telling you to “act immediately” via text, something is up. Instead of clicking that link, get in touch with any entity contacting you directly through their website, app or direct phone number—never through a link or contact information received in a text.

About the experts

  • Dawn Sarno is the director of the AVANT Lab at Clemson University and author of a recent research paper exploring people’s susceptibility to scam text messages and other types of fraud.
  • Rachel Tobac is the CEO of SocialProof Security. She works with consumers and businesses to educate them on social-engineering hacking techniques to help keep their data safe.

Why trust us

Reader’s Digest has published hundreds of articles on personal technology, arming readers with the knowledge to protect themselves against cybersecurity threats and internet scams as well as revealing the best tips, tricks and shortcuts for computers, cellphones, apps, texting, social media and more. For this piece on scam text messages, Sage Lazzaro tapped her experience as a tech journalist with nearly a decade of experience. Then Chuck Brooks, the president of Brooks Consulting International and a consultant with more than 25 years of experience in cybersecurity, emerging technologies and other tech topics, gave it a rigorous review to ensure that all information is accurate and offers the best possible advice to readers. We rely on credentialed experts with personal experience and know-how as well as primary sources including tech companies, professional organizations and academic institutions. We verify all facts and data and revisit them over time to ensure they remain accurate and up to date. Read more about our team, our contributors and our editorial policies.

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