The Checkout

You've Been SMiShed

The more I learn about smart phones, the less I understand how they got their name.

A few weeks ago, my colleague Ellen Nakashima let us know that erasing personal information from cellphones and smart phones is not that easy and you can unwittingly leave behind a trove of data about yourself.

Well, it looks like the handy devices are no longer immune from spammers and scammers either and are well on their way to giving whoever compiles the Oxford English Dictionary a headache by inspiring a new addition to the lexicon of cyber nuisances: SMiShing.

The term was coined by the folks at anti-virus software maker McAfee Avert Labs as shorthand for phishing via SMS, a.k.a. text messaging.

As with spam in other media, the text messaged kind is mainly annoying, although, as SMiShing implies, some may also try to trick you into going to a Web site that will, in turn, try to get you to download spyware or a worm.

The wrinkle with text messaged spam, of course, is that unlike with E-mail you're typically charged for each message you receive so even if you hit delete right away, you'll still be paying a penalty through no fault of your own.

Fortunately for most of us, SMiShing is not that widespread yet. And the major cellphone carriers are already on the case.

Verizon Wireless has filed three lawsuits against companies that have inundated the cellphone company's customers with unsolicited text messages. One lawsuit filed last month was prompted by 30,000 text messages urging the recipients to buy stocks and medicines. In September, Verizon Wireless sued over 550,000 text messages sent to the company's subscribers in New York City pushing penny stocks. The third case, filed last June, was brought after 1.1 million messages were sent to Verizon Wireless customers in New Jersey hawking discount prescription medication.

If you find yourself one of the repeated targets of SMiShers, you have a few options. First off, you should report it to your cellphone company and help them build a case that may shut the spammers down. You can buy security software for your phone, though at this point you should be aware that it doesn't work as well as the kind you have on your computer or laptop. You can find out if your service will let you block text messages from the Web or specific addresses. If all else fails, you can change your phone number.

Has spam hit your cellphone inbox yet? And can anyone come up with a better name for SMiShing than, well, SMiShing?

By Annys Shin |  November 8, 2006; 7:00 AM ET Consumer News
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I'm still trying to figure out why it's acceptable for cell-phone users to be charged for incoming calls. They don't make them; why should they be charged for them? What's the rationale?

Posted by: Marjorie Streeter | November 8, 2006 1:30 PM

I agree with Marjorie Streeter. Why do we pay for incoming calls? If the wireless companies REALLY want to cut down on this stuff they can charge the folks making the call. Should be simple enough ... if the call originates from you, you must pay. If you send out 30,000 text messages, you pay for 30,000 text messages. and NO GROUP/VOLUME DISCOUNTS !!! Make 'em pay full price for each message.

The junk messages will stop really quick.

Posted by: Me2 | November 8, 2006 2:10 PM

I have never had a company charge me for incoming text messages. I have always paid "ala carte" for outgoing messages, but never been billed for an incoming one.

Posted by: texter | November 8, 2006 2:23 PM

With unlimited data, I don't pay for email messages, but I would have to pay for each SMS and MMS message received or sent. For blackberry users, this is not good. For tmobile sidekick users, who have all data (including texts) free in their unlimited plan, it's less of a factor, but still annoying. I know one friend who has gotten emails like that on a daily basis and has no idea how they got his pager address. He's ready to change it because of the hassle.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | November 8, 2006 4:43 PM

How about TMPura? Standing for "Text Messaging Phishing"

Posted by: Major Pain | November 8, 2006 5:53 PM

That's why I stay away from fancy shmancy "smart phones", that's why I keep my three y/o Nokia which makes calls (after all, that's what a cell phone is for, right?). The more you keep falling on this high tech trap the more problems you will have. Keep it simple people and stop showing off!.

No GPS, no email, no IE access, nothing that can make me a target for spammers, hackers or more hidden charges, courtesy of my provider. My old cell phone serves me well.

Posted by: Jimbo | November 8, 2006 6:15 PM

Verizon customers aren't the only recipients. My family plan is with Cingular. Both I and my daughter received unsolicited SMSs offering to buy weeks of my (imagined) time share.

I stronly agree with some of the other comments: why do cell providers charge me for incoming messages? If the message is sent from another customer of the same company, it seems a bit like double-dipping since we both pay.

Posted by: JohnR | November 9, 2006 2:10 PM

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