Social Network and SMS Scam to Watch Out For (And Tell Your Teens About)


Our recent cell phone bill revealed a new cybercrime to me. First, my husband noticed a mysterious $9.99 "premium services" charge on the bill for my oldest child's line.  He asked her if she'd signed up for any text services or paid for a ringtone. When she proclaimed her innocence, he left the bill for me to follow up with the cell provider, since the line is in my name. You'll never guess what I uncovered. SMS scams that begin with innocent social networking fun.

I then called the cell phone company to find out more. They asked me if my daughter had a "MySpace". The operator told me that they'd had numerous reports of kids signing up for things on social networks and getting cell charges for services that didn't seem related. She added that sending text messages to 5 or 6 digit codes can often mean fee-based services. The customer service rep very sweetly offered to refund the charges.

Next, I did an online search, using the phrase "text message" and the five digit code involved in this issue. I found several hundred entries where several included the terms "scam" and "fraud." Hmm, I thought, this looks interesting. Sure enough, after reading several entries, I discerned some consistent elements. Apparently there are ads appearing in the margins of our social networks offering services like IQ tests and quizzes meant to determine "how loveable" you are, among other offers. That's fairly irresistible to adolescents in search of their true selves! Naturally, they would click on these offers to learn more about who they "really" are.

At some point in the quiz, the ad requires you to enter your cell phone number in order to receive your score or get the final answer. This is the point where cybersavvy teens and adults think, "wait a sec," and close the application or browser window. For those who are less in the know, they type in the digits and await the response. What they don't realize is, they've also authorized a monthly charge for this "premium service".

Ending the charges requires the cell phone owner to send a text message back including the word "stop". You'll also need to contact your cell provider to get the charges off your bill. If you ignore the issue for several months, you may not find the cell provider willing to refund all the charges, so this is exactly the sort of thing to warn your teens about and monitor the bill for with regularity.

When confronted with the detailed version of what might have happened, my daughter realized it was exactly what she had done. In Facebook, she had clicked on an IQ test quiz, and entered her cell phone number to get the score. Happily, she'd also texted "stop" back to the provider when she realized something was amiss. But as is typical of teens, she failed to tell me what she had done, likely because she didn't piece together the possibility of the $9.99 charge appearing on the bill.

On the other hand, I'm happy to report that neither of my cell-phone toting kids has gone over their texting allotments nor been making calls past lights-out. See, it's good to review those monthly bills!


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