Emerging scam targets unsuspecting smartphone users with wrong-number text

A new scam aims to gain your personal information from a link sent after starting a conversation over a text sent to the wrong number. (Ponsulak, Shutterstock)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — It began with a simple text that appeared to be sent to the wrong person.

"Keénan? It's mé Jočelyn… Wé talked at Jočelýň's cocktail party ánd třadeď #s. Im bačk in ťhe ařéá fór a minute if ú wanted ťó actually meet up thiš ťime, r ú up 4 that?" the text questioned.

The texter didn't reach Keenan, but instead inadvertently contacted television news reporter Andrew Adams, who was quick to reply he wasn't Keenan.

"(Expletive) did a dope give me the fáke no?" came the expletive-filled response from the unknown texter. "Ťhat neveř háppeňed to mé hahaha! (Expletive) I am sučh a dumb (expletive)."

At that point, the texter sent an apparent selfie of an auburn-haired woman with a nose ring.

The reporter kindly consoled that perhaps she didn't have the correct area code or that the number she texted may have been a digit off.

"Ýeáh I have a nón local aréa code becauše I just moveď here á few monthš ago. Never bótheřed to čhange iť ;P" the texter added. "Wéll yoú virtually knów mý whole štory plus my ďúmb fače haha. Apologieš I seňť ťhat pič befóřé Í kňew ít wás ťhe wrong ňumbeř. Neways, I am bored. Wanť 2 talk?"

Thinking the entire exchange was a little odd, the reporter reached out to his coworker, KSL TV executive producer Keira Farrimond, who offered a surprising reply.

"DUDE!" she exclaimed, all caps, in the text. "I had one of those a week or so ago."

She went on to share a screen from a woman named Penny who was apparently trying to reach Russell, saying "…we texted on Hot or Not last time I came up to visit my relatives but we never connected for dinner."

"I'm back here 4 a little bit if you still want to truly go out while I'm here," that texter continued, "r u around?"

KSL-TV reporter Andrew Adams received some suspicious texts from an unknown number. It turns out the texts are a part of a new scam.
KSL-TV reporter Andrew Adams received some suspicious texts from an unknown number. It turns out the texts are a part of a new scam. (Photo: Jay Hancock, KSL-TV)

In both cases, the texter was persistent in trying to strike up a conversation with a wrong-numbered stranger.

"I don't know," Farrimond chuckled. "It was like she wasn't going to give up, it felt like, even if I didn't engage."

After asking around further, a third co-worker had also recently received a similar text exchange.

Suspecting a possible scam was in play, Adams began googling "wrong number text scam," uncovering multiple recent news stories about the same calls that were making their way to other unsuspecting cell phone users in markets across the country.

In fact, it was more than just an inadvertent wrong number text.

According to the Better Business Bureau, which has issued warnings about the emerging scam, there are a couple of possible aims.

"The idea is that they get you to click a link after stringing you along for a little bit that ends up putting your credit card information into explicit websites or something along those lines," said local BBB spokesperson Britta Clark.

Further, Clark suggested, the link could be potentially used to mine and steal that financial information while finding out additional info that could possibly be used to scam others in the future.

She said the initial texts were likely sent by bots, but it's possible further down the line the exchange could be kicked up to a live person on the other end of the text thread.

"When you're running it as a bot where it's not a live person, it's a lot easier to do that than by staying behind a computer as an individual and manually responding to all of these people," Clark said.

Clark suspected whoever was responsible was likely casting a "wide net" with contact numbers gained through data mining or the sale of information from websites, including those possibly used for dating.

"Ideally they're looking to get to single men, as far as what we've seen, who are interested in those kinds of dating-near-you websites," Clark said. "They're getting all kinds of people. They're getting married men, they're getting single women, they're getting all sorts of people, of course, and the goal is to try to stick out as many lures as possible to hopefully catch in something."

Clark discouraged people from responding at all to the text messages, saying it could put them at risk of being targeted in additional scams.

"Every time that you basically hit, it's like a green flag to them that you are susceptible to this kind of scam in the future," Clark said. "Of course a lot of times we do want to respond, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but once you respond — if they keep pushing — that's definitely a red flag and you want to be sure to avoid that and definitely don't click on any links that you get through text message."

Farrimond acknowledged it was, at least, an effective initial ploy in that it preyed on the inclination to help someone who is pointed in the wrong direction as well as the idea that sometimes positive relationships develop through random connections.

"I could see how somebody could feel bad for somebody who might be lonely, maybe think that they're looking for that personal connection in the world where we don't have a lot of personal connections and maybe strike up a friendship and get hurt in the end," Farrimond said. "Maybe it's the long game they're playing these days."

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