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Fake text messages are latest bait for con artists

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Here’s the word of the day: smishing. What will they think of next?

ellenmarks_scamThis is a term that plays on “phishing” – in which a fake email tries to get you to click on a malicious link – only it comes as a text. In other words, SMS (“short message service”) phishing. In other words, smishing.

What’s happening is that scammers are sending texts that look like they come from your bank, telling you that your debit card has been used to make a purchase, according to Kim Komando, who hosts a weekly radio show and website about technology.

The text message includes a phone number you can call, but if you do, you will get the scammer and not your bank. At that point, the bogus bank employee will ask you to confirm personal financial information. And, just like that, you are exposed.

Here are some smishing smarts, courtesy of Komando:

• If you receive this kind of official-looking text with a phone number and want to follow up, do not call the number given. Instead, call your bank with a number you find independently or call your credit card company by using the number on the back of the card.

• Never assume a text message or email is the real deal. Scammers can spoof phone numbers and email addresses to make them look official. Further, don’t click on links within these messages.

• Don’t feel pressured into giving out sensitive data. Instead, stay calm, hang up the phone and call the company at a number you have obtained independently.

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Think about the “no such thing as a free lunch” adage when you’re hit with an offer for free downloads or streams of any kind. That includes movies, hit TV shows, sports and popular games.

The hidden cost is malware implanted in your computer that can “bombard you with ads, take over your computer or steal your personal information,” according to the Better Business Bureau.

BBB employees said they tested movie downloads from five sites that offered the freebies. In every case, they ended up with malware on their computers. The BBB did not name the sites.

In addition, some free download sites want a credit card – just to process registration, they say. The BBB advises to never give your credit card number to a site that offers illegally downloaded content.

“They’re run by `pirates,’ not legit businesspeople, and you can’t trust them with your financial information,” the BBB says.

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Good news: The Federal Trade Commission has sued several California companies that are accused of preying on Spanish-speaking residents by using cunning methods to sell products and lessons for learning English.

The companies are accused of hiring Peruvian telemarketers who pretend to be with with the government, centro de ayuda (non-government “help center”), well-known firms such as Walmart, or a Spanish radio station, the FTC complaint says.

The calls are made to look like they’re coming from emergency responders or people the Spanish-speakers had listed as references. It’s a ploy to get people to answer the phone.Those who did were told they were specifically chosen for a language course and personal instruction, with an 80 percent discount off a price that ranged from $199 to $799.

The FTC says people didn’t get the high-quality products they were promised, and those who refused to pay, tried to return products, or said no to an offer got calls threatening arrest or lawsuits.

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at or 505-823-3842.