SMS spoofing might be the term you hear for the first time, but there’s a chance you’re already familiar with the concept itself.
More often than not, SMS spoofing is portrayed in a bad light and associated with digital security risks, like the theft of sensitive personal information and other fraudulent activities. As technology evolves, it's not surprising that such attacks become more and more viable and find ways to harm innocent users.
However, there's a positive side to spoof text messages as well and widely adopted by various businesses.
Continue reading to learn what exactly is SMS spoofing, how it can be used for business purposes, and find out what you can do to reduce the risk of being exposed to fraud related to it.
What is SMS spoofing?
Essentially, spoofing means impersonating. It usually happens in a digital environment, for instance, via the phone, and is used to gain people’s trust by appearing familiar to them.
Therefore, SMS spoofing is a process of changing an original phone number (aka Sender ID) into an alphanumeric format that resembles a real phone number. It means that when a text lands in a recipient’s inbox, s/he can only see the details (phone number, name, or both) that the sender chose rather than the original number that the text message was sent from.
Is spoof texting illegal?
SMS spoofing definition raises a natural question: is it even legal?
The answer to this question lies in the way you use spoof text messages since there are two sides to it.
If you intend to cause harm by misleading someone, then, of course, using SMS spoofing to achieve such goals is illegal. Some examples of spoof texts include fake money transfers, extracting sensitive information like bank credentials, or abusing someone.
In any other case, spoof texting isn’t illegal, and we’ll soon look into some of them.
What’s the difference between SMS spoofing and smishing?
These two terms are often confused with one another or used as synonyms. However, SMS spoofing and smishing are not the same.
It might sound like they are since they usually go hand in hand.
Smishing, or SMS phishing, is a type of digital attack during which a scammer uses a fraudulent text message to trick a person and gather sensitive information. Put simply, it’s the message itself.
Meanwhile, spoofing can be just a part of it used to strengthen the impact of SMS phishing by changing the sender’s information.
The legal uses of SMS spoofing
Bulk SMS messages
Businesses and various other organizations, like non-profits, often rely on bulk SMS messages to connect with their subscribers to spread the latest news, promote their products, and boost their engagement with a brand.
Bulk SMS providers usually allow SMS spoofing so that the sender is clear and people can easily identify the brand that’s reaching out.
Organizations and other institutions that deal with sensitive personal information, like government, banks, and various service providers must spoof their text messages for the same reason as businesses – so that the users would trust the information they get.
Protecting one’s identity
There might be situations during which the person sending a text would like to go incognito. They may want to pass on some important information without revealing their identity, and that's when spoofing text messages can help.
Examples of spoof texts that you should be aware of
Unfortunately, spoofing is the reason why so many people fall victim to scam related to text messages, and here are a few most common cases worth knowing.
1. Impersonating reputable companies
One of the most common cases when it comes to SMS spoofing is pretending to be a well-known company.
People have their favorite brands or the brands they trust, and fraudsters tend to take advantage of it. This also allows them to get creative in terms of the message content as, for instance, with retailers, they can come up with anything from asking to update your contact information to letting you know you've just won $10,000.
Seeing the name of a company you trust on your phone screen followed by a decent offer doesn’t always raise suspicion – and that’s how you can get fooled.
2. Impersonating people you know
Another way SMS spoofers try to catch people off guard is by pretending to be someone you know or involving someone close to you in a particular situation.
Scammers can come up with a scenario where they inform you about some kind of trouble your loved one got into and ask for help (e. g. transfer some money).
Similarly, they can ask you for money directly by impersonating your friends or family members.
Either way, always make sure you're talking to an actual person to whom the message is referring before taking any action.
3. Posing as financial institutions
SMS spoofing can also be used to pose as a financial institution, for instance, a bank.
There are many different scenarios as well but you have to keep in mind that no bank or any other decent organization will ever ask for sensitive personal information via SMS. If you get suspicious money transfer requests, request to update billing profile, or anything related, contact the mentioned institution first and find out if they’re legit.
4. Threat and abuse
Since an SMS spoofer can create any identity s/he wants, it becomes a powerful tool to greatly affect people's emotional wellbeing, negatively.
Some common use cases in this area include stalking, tricking, pranking, or abusing.
How to prevent SMS spoofing?
You can't prevent SMS spoofers from sending fraudulent messages, but what you can do is to be aware of the signs that indicate a possible scam.
Although recognizing spoof text messages is tricky, there are things that you can do to protect yourself against SMS spoofing.
- Examine the sender’s details. Often, there might be some minimal changes to the original “sender’s” name, and not everyone tends to notice that. For instance, instead of American Airlines, you can encounter American Airliines.
- Don’t open any unfamiliar or suspicious links if you’re not 100% sure about the sender and an URL included in a text message.
- Don’t fall blindly for the offer or a request. Ask yourself – isn’t this offer just too good to be true?
- Don’t provide any personal information. If anyone will need such sensitive details for updates or any other intention, SMS will not be the way to obtain such information.
- Beware of requests to reset your password.
- Examine the content of the message. Is the copy grammatically correct? No spelling mistakes? Does it make use of personalization? Besides, scammers want you to react now, so there’s usually some kind of urgency included in the message.
Think twice before you act
And then think once more.
SMS spoofing is kind of a situation that you think will never happen to you, but the truth is that you can never be sure about this. It can happen when you're not so alert about such a possibility or too distracted to even notice the signs.
One way or another, make sure to report any possible SMS spoofing attacks to your mobile carrier and other relevant institutions that can start tracing a spoofed text message. Also, you can block a specific phone number on your phone or you can use text message blocker apps to prevent receiving a message from the same number again.
But most importantly, stay aware of the bad side of SMS spoofing and the signs that come with it.