Sept. 25, 2021, 12:51 p.m. EDT

Robocalls are biting the dust, but get ready for a lot more spam texts

By Elisabeth Buchwald

Sick of getting phone calls about your car’s expired warranty when you don’t own a car? A tax refund that’s supposedly waiting for you? Or even a low-interest consolidated loan? You’re not alone.

But as prevalent as they may seem, the volume of scam robocalls in the U.S. declined by 29% in August compared to June, when some 2.1 billion scam robocalls were made, according to data from YouMail, a spam call-blocking app and digital voicemail box.

Spam robotexts, however, are on the rise and are poised to continue to grow.

Last month, some 7.65 billion spam texts were sent in the U.S., amounting to 28 spam texts for every person in the country, according to data from RoboKiller, a robocall and robotext filtering app. That’s an 8% increase from June when some 7.07 billion spam texts were sent.

RoboKiller estimates that spam text messages will reach a total of 86 billion people during all of 2021, a 55% increase from 2020. That uptick comes at a price: Consumers in the U.S. lost $86 million from spam texts in 2020, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

“I’m extremely concerned about robotexts,” said Teresa Murray, who heads the consumer watchdog division at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.

Compared to robocalls, “they’re easier for bad guys to send out,” Murray told MarketWatch. And it can be “more difficult for consumers to weed out the fraudulent ones because there’s no suspicious voice or other warning signs that can come with the personal contact during a phone call.”

“It’s just a static text with a gobble-gook link,” she added.

Why are robocalls declining but not robotexts?

Americans are receiving fewer spam robocalls thanks to blocking technology known as STIR/SHAKEN, which stands for Secure Telephone Identity Revisited and Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs.

“STIR/SHAKEN digitally validates the handoff of phone calls passing through the complex web of networks, allowing the phone company of the consumer receiving the call to verify that a call is in fact from the number displayed on Caller ID,” the FCC explains.

The Federal Communications Commission required most U.S. phone companies to implement STIR/SHAKEN technology by June 30. Because of the technology, you may now see calls on your phone labeled “scam risk” or “unverified caller,” even if the call appears to be coming from an area code near you.

But the technology “does not protect consumers against spam text messages,” said Giulia Porter, vice president of RoboKiller.

“STIR/SHAKEN is designed largely to address caller ID spoofing, which is very prevalent (approximately 37-38% of spam calls are spoofed),” she said. “Spoofing is not so common among texts, however. Scammers have a wide array of means to reach people via difficult-to-trace phone numbers.”

And since the recent implementation of STIR/SHAKEN has led to more scam robocalls going unanswered, fraudsters are sending more spam texts, Porter told MarketWatch.

The FCC and CTIA, a trade association representing the wireless communication industry, didn’t respond to MarketWatch’s request for comment regarding what legal remedies or technology can be used to help reduce the volume of scam texts Americans receive.

How you can protect yourself from scam texts

  • Never respond : Even if the text tells you to reply “STOP” to no longer receive messages, doing so will likely cause you to receive more texts because it will verify to the fraudulent actor that your number is in use. They can also sell your number to others.

  • Never click a link: Tempting as it may be to investigate on your own whether a text is spam or not by clicking a link included in it, doing so could allow bad actors to gain access to sensitive personal information stored on your phone.

  • Block and report: Even if you receive spam texts and calls from a variety of different numbers you can at least ensure the ones that have already contacted you won’t be able to do so if you block them. The FCC also recommends forwarding unwanted robotexts to 7726 (SPAM) , which will alert your carrier and help them investigate the bad actor and protect others.

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