If you have a cell phone, you've probably gotten one. The "You've Won a Free Gift Card" spam text messages are so common, you may not think anything of them. But be careful, responding to those texts could accidentally sign you up for a $9.99/month charge.
How the Scam Works:
You get a text message saying that you just won a $1,000 gift card from a major retailer. It sounds too good to be real, but you decide to check it out anyway. You follow the link in the text, and it leads to a legitimate-looking website with the colors and logo of the real company.
On the website is a form that prompts you to "claim your prize" by entering your name and address and confirming your cell phone number. When you enter your phone number, you receive a text message with a secret PIN. You type the PIN into the form and hit submit. Your gift card is on the way... or not!
There is no gift card, and "winners" found themselves unknowingly signed up for $9.99 per month premium text messaging service. The scam, known as cramming, happens when a company uses your cell phone bill like a credit card, adding a charge for services that you never knowingly purchased. This scam is so prevalent that the FTC got involved and shut down six providers.
What Can I Do About Cramming?
- Just hit delete! Receive a suspicious text message? Ignore instructions to confirm your phone number or visit a link. Other scam text messages instruct you to text "STOP" or "NO" to prevent future texts. But this is a common ploy by scammers to confirm they have a real, active phone number.
- Read your phone bill: Check all charges on your phone bill each month for products and services you haven't ordered. Some charges may appear only once, but others might be monthly "subscriptions." Pay special attention to sections labeled "Miscellaneous," and the "third-party" charge sections on your bill.
- Know how to combat spam texts. In Canada, a new anti-spam law covers text messages. Learn more about reporting and fighting spam here. In the US, forward the texts to 7726 (SPAM on most keypads). This will alert your cellphone carrier to block future texts from those numbers.
- Ask your phone carrier about blocking third-party charges. Mobile phone carriers permit outside businesses to place charges on your phone bill, but many carriers also allow you to block these charges for free.