I didn’t reply, but many other people who received similar messages did. Some even throw it back at their spammers by filming myths and sending hilarious messages to annoy anyone on the other side. They are fighting back by snark and in some cases, posting screenshots of their chats online.
Jack Whittaker, a PhD student in sociology at the University of Surrey, says spam messages are on the rise. who is studying the phenomenon. However, experts say that the response defeats the point, as it opens a person up to more spam messages.
Spam messages that seek to trick their recipients into giving up valuable information are not new. Some of the earliest digital spam was sent via email chains, the most famous of which was a scam in which someone impersonating a Nigerian prince claimed to need the recipient’s help to send a number big money.
Once smartphones became ubiquitous, scammers turned to texting. And in 2022, spam is much more personal. Often, they mimic a misdirected text, may mistype the recipient’s name, or use a generic first line (usually “How’s it going” or “I’m having fun tonight!”) to give feedback.
If you have recently received any such messages, you are not alone. “There has been an incredible increase in spam messages,” said J. Michael Skiba, a professor at Colorado State University who specializes in cybercrime and international financial fraud. Globally, 90 billion of them were sent last year, he said; in the US, 47 billion spam messages were sent between January and October 2021, up 55% over the same period in 2020. According to RoboKiller, a spam blocking company, phishing messages lead to $86 million in losses in the US alone in 2020. “People just get hit by these things,” says Skiba.
Skiba says texting has several advantages over email from a scammer’s perspective — notes from a phone number are less suspicious than notes from a sketchy email address, and the casual nature of texting information makes grammar mistakes less noticeable. Many people also feel a very human urge to respond to a text. “It’s a psychological trick in that you know the text isn’t right, but it appeals to your desire to help and say, ‘You’ve got the wrong number,'” Skiba says.
However, the person on the other side is most likely working with an organized group of scammers in a call center and hopefully you say exactly that. A single response is enough for the scammer to verify that the phone number is real. That response leads to a domino effect that can invite more spam messages to your phone. Ultimately, scammers are looking to at least verify your number in order to potentially sell it to other groups; Receiving your personal information is a sweet reward.
“I 100% recommend not responding at all,” says Skiba.