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What the heck is a ‘smishing’ scam?

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Smishing scam

"Smishing" might be a funny-sounding word, but being a victim of it is no joke.

Similar to a "phishing" scam -- where computer users receive an authentic-looking email that appears to be from their bank, Internet Service Provider (ISP) or other organization -- "smishing" messages are sent to you via SMS (text message) on your mobile phone.

Both try to lure you into providing account information -- such as a login name, password or credit card info -- by clicking on a link that takes you to a web site. Or you might be asked to answer questions via text message or told to call a phone number. The intent is the same, too: to defraud you out of money and perhaps steal your personal identity.

You can fight "smishing," which stands for "SMS phishing," in a few ways:

* If you get a suspicious looking text (or email) that asks you to urgently confirm information, it's not coming from a legitimate institution. Therefore, don't reply and don't click on the link in the message. Simply delete it. Your bank, financial institution, ISP or favorite online retailer will never ask for sensitive info this way. When in doubt, contact the company yourself.

* Anti-malware ("malicious software") programs exist for mobile devices now, many of which can detect and flag a smishing attempt. This serves as an extra line of defense from these malicious types, but you must still exercise common sense (see previous tip). McAfee has a mobile security product for Android devices.

* When mobile shopping, stick with reputable retailers when giving out financial information, like your credit card, and always be sure to look for indicators that the site is secure, such as a little lock icon on the browser's status bar or a URL for a website that begins "https:" (the "s" stands for "secure"). On a related note, never click on a link to a retailer to shop online -- just in case it's a scam. Instead, manually type in the store's web address (URL).

* Look for suspicious charges on your monthly phone bill. Even if you never responded to one of these texts, it doesn't hurt to look at your itemized charges to see if there's anything that looks off. If it does, contact your cell phone provider right away to dispute the charges. Don't worry, they've heard it all before.

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