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GUEST OPINION Short code scams uncovered – and how to beat them

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The humble short code has been a valuable part of the telemedia business for many years – but like all good things there are people out there who use them for fraudulent activities, such as Smishing. Here short codes expert Peter Smith explains what is going on and how to stop it

Short codes, also known as short numbers, are significantly shorter in comparison to telephone numbers. These can also be described as a short digit sequence. Short codes are typically used by mobile network operators and businesses, to address messages such as MMS (Multimedia Messaging System) or SMS (Short Message Service). Besides messaging, short codes may also be used for abbreviated dialing.

Short codes are intentionally designed to be a catchy sequence of numbers or they may represent the spelling or abbreviation of the name of the company or service. Compared to a telephone number, a short code is easy to read as well as to memorize.

These short codes are used for various purposes such as activation or deactivation of various services or to enroll for subscriptions or to cast a vote for your favorite contestants on a television program etc. Usually, messages that are sent through to a short code are billed at a slightly higher rate as compared to regular SMS rate.

What is Smishing?

Sending fraudulent SMSes to individuals purporting to be from a reputed organization or a trustworthy entity with an intention to acquire their personal information, like credit card numbers or passwords etc. is called Smishing.

How does it work?

You are likely to receive an SMS that will ask you to reply with some personal information such as PINs or usernames & passwords or card numbers (debit or credit card). This SMS will most likely have an undertone of urgency or warning that you will incur a penalty/loss of funds if you don’t respond. The communication may contain a link and you will be asked to click on it, which in turn will be a fraudulent website asking you to fill a form with personal information.

Smishing for aid money is fairly common. Whenever there is a natural disaster many charities make use of short codes to make it easy for people to donate money that can support relief efforts. For example, if you were to text “PREVENT” to short code 90999, you donate $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. Such easy ways of donation makes it easy for scammer to pose as a charity organization and lure people to text a certain word and thereby donate a certain amount to a ‘good cause’.

How to avoid falling prey to short code scams?

One of the simplest ways to determine the authenticity of a shortcode is to look it up in the Short Code Directory. You can look up what short code is used by which brand or organization.

Avoid responding to Smishing messages even when all you want to do ask them not to contact you. Responding to such messages will confirm that your number is active and you are in fact willing to open these messages leading to an increase in unsolicited messages.

Exercise general caution. Increase your cyber awareness by keeping yourself updated with the latest cyber news.  You may want to install mobile security apps on your phone that filter communication from scammers.

Author

Peter Smith is a phone privacy enthusiast and a blogger. I own and write at Short Codes which tracks spammy Short Code numbers.

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