AUSTIN (KXAN) — As you start to prepare your holiday shopping this year, experts warn you to be wary of scams that will likely increase in the coming weeks.
Cybercriminals are consistently evolving to get people to reveal personal information about themselves. Since text messaging has become one of the most common ways to communicate, scammers have focused their efforts on this mode for phishing attempts.
“Text messaging is just really very lucrative for the scammers,” said George Cray, a senior vice president at iconectiv. “Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell what is a scam versus what’s legitimate.”
Many companies have started using texting to market products since it is an effective way to reach people. A helpful method to determine whether a text is from a company or a fraud is by the number of digits in the contact.
“Many of the larger brands and retailers really ended up using shortcodes — those five and six-digit numbers,” Cray said.
In order to send messages from one of these shorter numbers, companies must go through a vetting process. If the organization violates the terms, Cray said, it will be forced to surrender the code.
Conversely, it is more difficult to determine if the number is legitimate if it has 10 digits, Cray said.
“It’s really the wild west on how [10-digit numbers] are being used and whether or not you can trust them,” he said.
Generally, scammers will try to convey some sense of urgency in their messages.
“They know we want to solve problems. They know that we just want to make the issue go away [quickly],” Cray said.
A best practice, particularly around the holidays, is if you see a message that advises you to click a link hastily, take a step back, consider the content of the message and validate the sender’s information. Also, generally, avoid clicking links in text messages from unidentified numbers.
Sam Segran, an expert in cyber security at Texas Tech University, said to stay clear of shopping scams, people are better off using credit cards over debit cards. All of the money in a debit account is available and immediate, Segran said. With credit, a consumer has more time to dispute a purchase.
Further, he recommends setting alerts for all purchases and opening lower-level cards.
“If you set up maybe a $1,000 card versus having a $12,000 card, your exposure is limited,” Segran said.
Cybercriminals also are increasingly able to create more sophisticated websites. Discerning between a legitimate company’s website and a fake has become more difficult.
“Basically, they would have scraped a page of a real website and made it look like that. And they can still scam you. [You] want to be a little bit more careful about making sure that you’re going to the right places,” Segran said.
Both experts said regardless of the time of year, it is important to stay wary when it comes to phishing.
“Cyber hygiene is extremely helpful in these instances… especially when the shopping season starts,” Segran said. “The last thing: use common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”