FCC: Scam robotexts 'increasingly' targeting Americans — how to avoid

FILE - A woman holds an iPhone on Dec. 8, 2021, in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)

Scam robotext messages have surged in recent months with the swindlers seeking money, personal information, or simply to confirm that a number is active for use in a future scam. 

Similar to robocalls, robotexts can be "spoofed" to hide the originating number and make it appear that the text is coming from a number the recipient is more likely to trust, including a local number or impersonating a government agency like the IRS.

The Federal Communications Commission issued an advisory last month about "substantial increases" in scam robotext complaints. The agency said this, along with reports by non-governmental robocall and robotext blocking services, has made it clear "that text messages are increasingly being used by scammers to target American consumers."

Those who send scam text messages are looking for the recipient to engage with them, employing fear and anxiety to get a response, according to the agency. Texts can include false-but-believable claims about unpaid bills, issues about package delivery, bank account problems, or even law enforcement actions against the victim, the FCC said. 

The scammers may also provide "confusing information as if they were texting someone else," as well as other techniques to spur curiosity and engagement from the recipient. 

The FCC said complaints of these unwanted text messages have risen steadily in recent years from approximately 5,700 in all of 2019, 14,000 in 2020, 15,300 in 2021, to 8,500 through June 30 of this year. 

Meanwhile, independent companies that work to block robotexts estimate that billions are actually sent each month. One of such company, RoboKiller, estimates that consumers received more than 12 billion spam texts in July, which equates to more than 44 spam texts for every person in the United States. 


FILE - A person holds a cell phone on April 22, 2022, in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)

The FCC has implemented several steps to stop unwanted robocalls in recent months, including a rule that phone carriers must implement caller ID authentication to help reduce scam calls and block by default any illegal or unwanted calls based on "reasonable call analytics." 

In July, the FCC ordered phone companies to block any traffic of known robocall scams related to those marketing auto warranties from an operation said to be responsible for more than 8 billion calls since 2018. 

The FCC also already bans auto-dialed text messages from being sent to a mobile phone unless, the person previously gave consent to receive the message — or the message is sent for emergency purposes. 

A new proposal would require phone carriers to also block illegal robotexts and consider how caller ID authentication-like technology might be applied to text messaging.

Scam robotexts: What to look for

A scam text message sometimes utilizes unknown numbers, misleading information, and misspellings to avoid blocking and filtering tools, the FCC said. 

Ten-digit or longer number numbers, mysterious links, and sales pitches are also common tactics used by these scammers. 

"Consumers who have filed complaints with the FCC say some of the texts resemble email spam, with links to unwanted and unsolicited products," the FCC said on its website. "But many of the texts appear to be ploys to steal valuable personal or financial information." 

"Some recipients have been pressured to ‘log in’ to a fake bank website to verify a purchase or unlock a credit card that was frozen. Others use package delivery updates as phishing bait," it added.

Robotexts: How to avoid being scammed

The FCC warned consumers to never respond to suspicious texts, even if the message requests the person to "reply STOP" to unsubscribe, and warned that government agencies almost never initiate contact by phone or text. 

Other recommendations:

  • Do not click on any links.
  • Do not provide any information via text or website.
  • File a complaint with the FCC.
  • Forward unwanted texts to SPAM (7726).
  • Delete all suspicious texts.
  • Update your smart device OS and security apps.
  • Review text blocking tools in your mobile phone settings, available third-party apps, and your mobile phone carrier’s offerings.

This story was reported from Cincinnati.