“Many of these spam messages may be from middlemen and marketing companies – the equivalent of cold callers – but others can be started by fraudsters,” said Ciaran Bradley, vice president of handset security at AdaptiveMobile, in the research. “The most convincing scams are rooted in truth and as we all know, there is greater awareness of the compensation being paid out by the leading banks for the mis-selling of PPI. Consumers should be very wary of unknown numbers, avoid clicking on links in unsolicited messages and remember that anything which seems too good to be true usually is.”
For instance, No. 1 on the list is a widespread piece of spam offering thousands of pounds to consumers because of (bogus) mistakes made in selling Payment Protection Insurance. That scored the highest on AdaptiveMobile’s Ongoing Threat Analysis (OTA), which rates the impact of spam text messages by sector. The message goes something like this: “IMPORTANT - You could be entitled up to £3,160 in compensation from mis-sold PPI on a credit card or loan. Please reply PPI for info or STOP to opt out.”
Examples of other common SMS scams in the UK in 2012 include one for quick loans. A typical message might say, “A [redacted] loan for £950 is approved for you if you receive this SMS. 1 min verification & cash in 1 hr at www.[redacted].co.uk to opt out reply stop”
Accident compensation took the No. 3 spot. A spammer may attempt to lure a user into replying by texting, “You have still not claimed the compensation you are due for the accident you had. To start the process please reply YES. To opt out text STOP.” That tactic is followed closely by debt forgiveness, which warned mobile users that “due to a new legislation, those struggling with debt can now apply to have it written off. For more information text the word INFO or to opt out text STOP.”
Pension reviews rounded out the list. In this pernicious approach, the message often reads: “Our records indicate your Pension is under performing to see higher growth and up to 25% cash release reply PENSION for a free review. To opt out reply STOP.”
It’s not all monetary compensation, though. AdaptiveMobile also found that people in the UK are being subjected to spam advertising adult content and fake celebrity sex tapes. These may not be as prevalent as the monetary gambits, but they can be more disturbing to due to the explicit content of the texts, particularly if received by minors, the company noted.
This year’s results differ from last year when spam offering compensation for accidents was most prevalent (40%), followed by messages promising to help with debt (20%) and offering loans (17%). With 78% of all UK mobile users – 3.6bn people – being active SMS users, the reach of SMS spam is extremely high. Although SMS spam is much less common than email spam, it is also a far more trusted channel. Consequently, many users place a great deal more trust in SMS than email, IM or twitter.
“SMS is one of the most established and popular mobile communication channels and is consequently more trusted,” Bradley said. He also called on operators to take action. “Scammers and spammers are very quick to respond to current events such as PPI mis-selling or the latest celebrity scandal and create scams around them. For this reason, it is very important that mobile operators are aware of the threats that their customers are under threat from.”
He added, “Whilst consumers are usually quite savvy, many can simply be frustrated by receiving these texts and may feel powerless to prevent them,” said Bradley. “Consequently, operators should take steps to filter out these annoyances to make sure that they do not even reach the consumer in question.”