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Beware of text phishing and text telemarketer scams, state warns New Yorkers

Sample of the phony New York State DMV

Sample of the phony New York State DMV webpage victims could encounter. Credit: NYS Division of Consumer Protection

Unwanted texts, either to sell New Yorkers something or steal their private information, are the focus of state efforts aimed at protecting consumers' pocketbooks and their personal data.

On Monday, the state Division of Consumer Protection warned consumers across the state to be on the lookout for a text message phishing scheme used to update personal information from a current driver’s license. On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he had signed legislation expanding the definition of telemarketing to include text messages.

The actions are attempts to shield unsuspecting cellphone users from phishing scams and unwanted robotexts from telemarketers, officials said.

The phishing texts reference "the Secretary of State NY Drivers License Facility" and tell "recipients they are required to update their data for their current NY Drivers License," said officials with the consumer protection division in a news release Monday.

The texts are designed to steal personal data or sensitive information to commit identity theft or trick recipients into installing malicious software on a computer or a mobile device, state officials said.

"Anyone who received such a text message should delete it right away," the release said.

Never click on links sent in a text message from an unverified source, officials said, and avoid texting personal information or posting sensitive information online.

More information on the scams is available on the state Office of Information Technology Services Phishing Awareness resources page at https://its.ny.gov/resources, or the state Division of Consumer Protection Phishing Scam Prevention Tips page at https://dos.ny.gov/identity-theft-prevention-and-mitigation-program.

The news release Monday made no mention of specific cases involving the phishing scam but included two screenshot samples of the phony texts.

Since 2016, the division has received 1,244 complaints from consumers about text messages sent by "government impostors," state consumer protections officials said in an email Tuesday.

Text messages from phony DMV senders resulted in 37 complaints in 2020 with 270 already in 2021, officials said.

Cuomo on Tuesday, in announcing the new legislation, said New Yorkers were already protected against unwanted robocalls under state law, but texts had previously been exempted.

"Our consumer protections need to keep pace with technology and New Yorkers who have long been plagued by the nuisance of annoying calls from telemarketers now have to contend with unwanted texts attempting to sell them things they don't want," Cuomo said in a news release. "This legislation closes this annoying loophole and will help ensure our laws are modernized to confront the needs of New Yorkers."

In March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned people about cybercriminals pretending they were from the CDC and asking recipients to click on a link for directions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

At the time, state Attorney General Letitia James' office warned of phishing scams including phony medical cures, investment scams and fraudulent charities.

State & Region