Corporate Responsibility

Beware of sneaky hidden SMS costs

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How to stay safe from scammers’ tricks.

Even in the age of mobile messenger apps, SMS technology is holding its own on smartphones. But when scammers are sending them, texts can get expensive or even dangerous. Our tips will help you to keep safe.

Illustration "hidden SMS costs"

When scammers are sending sms, texts can get expensive or even dangerous. Our tips will help you to keep safe.

Often fraudulent or “smishing” texts look as if they have come from a well-known company. A company might alert you to a shipment, or a mobile phone provider might be granting you extra minutes. But clicking on the link in the message may be risky. 

How smishing works

SMS messages sent with criminal intent can have many faces. 

  • The message may have an embedded link that the recipient is supposed to click to get more information, but it triggers a download of a Trojan. This Trojan then sends “premium SMS” texts in the background that cost more. If you are not sure, you can always find them on the next month’s bill.
  • The message tells the recipient to call back because of an emergency or some other occurrence. But the number is faked so skillfully that even savvy users will not immediately recognize the address triggering these costly charges. Then the caller is not immediately connected – they land in a queue that racks up the charges.

Wondering how the scammers got your number? It isn’t personal. The scammers are sending the messages to numbers produced automatically by a number generator, and your number was one of the hits. Criminals also use special apps to scrape information from websites in order to obtain real numbers. Yet another reason to be careful about posting such information online.

How to protect yourself from smishing

As with “phishing”, “smishing” (SMS + “phishing”) only works if you take action. Whether it involves a premium number or a link to a Trojan, if you don’t respond to the message, nothing will happen.

And incidentally, simply receiving a text message does not cost anything

  • If you receive a text from an unfamiliar sender or an unusual phone number, you should be wary. This also applies if the text is really general and tells you to do something without addressing you personally.
  • Don’t be tempted to return a call or click a link from an urgent-sounding message. Think first. If you know the supposed sender, ask whether the SMS they sent is genuine.
  • Only disclose your mobile number if it is really necessary. 
  • Ask your mobile phone provider’s customer service team to block special or premium SMS numbers.
  • Do not click any links in the text – better still, not even links in texts from people you know, because their address books could have been hijacked as well.
  • Install a virus scanner for your smartphone and scan it regularly.
  • Keep an eye on your mobile phone bill so you will know right away if a special number has been dialed.
  • If you have received a fraudulent SMS, report it to the German Federal Network Agency. It has created its own forms for such cases, and you can use them to file a complaint.

Further reading

FAQ