Be aware of typosquatting premium rate text scams

Typo - San Fransisco

Premium rate text messages are a useful and highly convenient way of using a mobile to charge for a service or product, or to make a donation to a worthy cause. You simply send a text message with a keyword and short code and quickly receive a text response. It is the text message you receive that triggers the premium rate charge rather than the message you send. Unfortunately, scammers have found a way of exploiting this and using it to run up your mobile bill without you realising, using a method referred to as ‘typosquatting’.

Typosquatting takes advantage of consumers who manually enter a web address into their browser or search engine, and in the process of doing so, make a simple typo. Scammers know this happens frequently, and take advantage of it by setting up similar looking sites to the intended destination, but with a few subtle differences.

Having won over your trust by imitating the site you recognise, they proceed to step two which is to incentivise you to part with your mobile number. This may be done by informing you that you have won a prize or are entitled to cash or gifts, and all they need to do to begin the process of collecting is to enter your mobile number.

Unsuspecting targets, having done so will then start to receive a stream of text messages to their mobile which can cost up to £4.50 for each one received, charged to your mobile bill. There is no obvious way, when receiving a text message to determine whether you have been charged for it or not, short of checking with your mobile operator. It is this lack of transparency which enables the scammers to send you many text messages before your next bill arrives, typically running up charges in excess of £100.

PhonepayPlus is the government backed body who deals with such issues and are there to regulate the ‘pay by mobile’ industry. At the time of writing, they report only 38 instances of complaints received whereby this has happened, but the suspicion is that the problem is far more widespread than it appears, and is growing.

As recent as February 2012, PhonepayPlus fined two companies £100,000 each for using such typo-squatting practices, with each running numerous cloned websites, designed to attract unwitting consumers to part with their mobile number so that they would unknowingly be billed for receiving text messages.

So how can you avoid this from happening? There are a few simple rules you can follow:

  1. Before entering your mobile number, or any other personal details into a form on a website, be sure to check the address bar of your web browser to verify that you are on the website you intended to visit.
  2. If it looks too good to be true it usually is. It’s unlikely a website will be giving away riches to you simply because you have visited it (or you are their one millionth visitor). It is such supposed generosity that forms part of the scam to entice you to hand over your details.
  3. If you receive any text messages you were not expecting, asking you to reply (even prompting you to text back ‘STOP’ to prevent you from receiving more), under no circumstances reply. Simply ignore them. Although this is not strictly ‘typo-squatting’, it is another method scammers use for coercing you into signing up to receive expensive text messages. Deleting such a text has no effect. If anything we would recommend keeping it as it can be used as evidence.
  4. If you feel you have fallen foul of such a scam, speak to your mobile operator to confirm, and then get in touch with PhonepayPlus, as they will advise the best course of action.

By following these few simple rules you should ensure that you never fall for such premium rate SMS scams.

Have you been a victim if such a scam? Have you had charges appear on your mobile bill that you weren’t expecting? Let us know your experiences by leaving your comments below.

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