Scammers are targeting cellphone users with texts and attempting to steal vital personal information by impersonating banks or financial institutions, officials at the State Division of Consumer Protection said Wednesday.

Officials said the scammers use the texts to warn recipients that their account or accounts have been compromised "due to unusual activity."

The message usually asks the users to confirm their account information, make a payment, or claim a prize. Some of the links sent via the texts direct the recipients to a phony site that resembles the actual financial institution website, while others install malware onto the recipient's device, the officials said.

“With the advances in technology, unscrupulous individuals are becoming more creative in how to steal your personal information which can result in identity theft and serious financial hardship," New York Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said in a statement, adding: "Anyone who receives unsolicited dubious text messages should delete them right away.”

Officials said phishing scams "regularly" attempt to exploit "the trust built between an individual and a financial institution" in an effort to obtain "highly sensitive information" — information that can be used to steal someone's identity and finances.

Officials said the best way to protect against phishing scams is:

  • Inspect the sender’s information to confirm that the message was generated from a legitimate source, but don’t click on the link or call the number on the text.
  • Do not respond to the text. Even writing STOP will let the scammer know that the phone number is genuine, and they may sell the number to other scammers.
  • Banks will never ask for confidential information through text. Requests for this information, as well as poor spelling or grammar, are telltale signs of a scam.
  • If the text seems suspicious, call the bank or financial institution directly to understand the protocols for alerting customers of potential fraud.
  • Do not post sensitive information online, which can be used by a cybercriminal in developing a potential attack or scams.
  • Keep an eye out for misspelled words, which are used to bypass a phone carrier’s filter system for fraud.

Individuals can also use their phone settings to filter unknown senders or block numbers, officials said.

For more information on phishing scams, visit the New York State Office of Information Technology Services Phishing Awareness resources page at its.ny.gov/resources or the state Division of Consumer Protection Phishing Scam Prevention Tips page at dos.ny.gov/identity-theft-prevention-and-mitigation-program.

The Consumer Assistance Helpline can also be reached at 800-697-1220 weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding state holidays.

A consumer complaint can be filed against scammers at dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection. 

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