This morning I received a very blatant spam offering me “a small gift” to supposedly pay my phone bill. Normally I’d groan, roll my eyes, and quickly delete such a thing, but there was something different about this particular message: it was spoofed as coming from my own phone number. At my iPhone’s best, it was a legit message from me to myself. Tapping into sender details led me to my own contact card.
Equally frustrating was that I had no obvious way to report the alarming parody to my carrier, Verizon Wireless. Fraudulent calls and texts are nothing new; most people face a constant barrage of spam calls showing up on caller ID from a number similar to their own. But it was the first time I received something my own number. These scammers are getting more and more sophisticated.
Turns out I wasn’t alone. Many Verizon customers have reported receiving similar spam of their respective numbers over the past few days — ditto for visible MVNO sound — and several Edge employees of other carriers also encountered them. I posted an Instagram story about it and got a lot of “same” responses. Phishing by SMS, or “smishing”, has been on the rise years, but there’s something more confusing and pervasive about it being tied to your own number. It’s very “the call comes from inside the house”.
the main reaction on Twitter is the confusion and “how?!” Again, this is all just spoofing and tech impersonation. It’s trivially easy for spammers to camouflage themselves as any number they choose. My Verizon account is secure and my number has not been hacked. If you received the same message, there is no need to panic. I advise against clicking on the link included in the post, although I did so exactly for investigative purposes. The link I received redirected me to the website of Channel One Russia, a state television network. Others have reported similar results and say they are redirected to Russian websites when they click on the link. I asked Verizon to comment, as many companies are currently on high alert for cyberattacks amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It often feels like phone carriers are losing the war against scammers. I don’t fancy having to deal with the sheer volume of spam attacks that traverse their networks daily, but it’s spiraling out of control. I have noticed an increase in general SMS spam over the past few weeks. And as Alex Lanstein noted on Twitter, this particular message contains several phrases – “free msg”, “the bill is paid”, “gift” – which are assumed to be flagged by the spam protection systems of Verizon. And yet, it went successfully. And since this one showed as coming from me, the text also managed to escape Apple’s “filter unknown messages” feature.
So what can we do? In addition to offering various anti-spam protection measures, Verizon and other US carriers encourage customers to forward spam texts to SPAM (7726). However, some people might have pause about reporting spam “from” their own number. I asked Verizon what happens in this situation.
If you are deeply annoyed by the spam emails or calls you receive, you can always file a complaint with the FCC about this stuff, where “my own number is spoofed” is a sub-issue that can be reported.
Other than these options, all you can really do is delete the texts and wait for the next scam tactic that even seems impossible. Shit, crooks. Do better, carriers.