This morning, I received a very cheeky spam message offering me “a little gift” for allegedly paying my phone bill. Normally I would groan, roll my eyes, and quickly delete such a thing, but there was something different about this particular message: It was spoofed as coming from my own phone number. As best as my iPhone could see, it was a legitimate message from myself. Tapping the sender details took me to my own contact card.
Equally frustrating was that I had no obvious way to report the alarming fake to my carrier, Verizon Wireless. Spoofed calls and text messages are nothing new; Most people are faced with a constant barrage of unwanted calls that show up on caller ID as if they are from a number similar to yours. But this was the first time I got something from me own number. These scammers are getting more and more sophisticated. [Update: On March 29th, Verizon issued a statement about the spam texts and said it’s working to block them. Read our latest story.]
Turns out he wasn’t alone. Many Verizon customers have reported receiving similar spam of their respective numbers in recent days, the same for your visible MVNO — and several Edge employees of other carriers have also encountered them. I posted an Instagram story about it and got a lot of “same” responses. SMS phishing, or “smishing”, has been increasing in recent years, but there is something more disconcerting and invasive about being linked to your own number. It’s all very “the call comes from inside the house”.
The top reaction on twitter is confusion and “how?” Again, this is all phishing and tech spoofing. It’s trivially easy for spammers to masquerade as any number they choose. My Verizon account is secure and my number has not been hijacked. If you have received the same message, there is no reason to panic. I would advise against clicking on the link included with the message, although I did exactly that for research purposes. The link I received redirected me to the website of Channel One Russia, a state television network. Others have reported similar results and say that they are redirected to Russian websites when they click on the link. I asked Verizon for comment, as many carriers are currently on high alert for cyberattacks amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It often seems like phone companies are losing the war against scammers. I don’t envy having to deal with the sheer volume of spam attacks hitting your networks every day, but this is getting out of hand. I have noticed an increase in overall SMS spam in recent weeks. And as Alex Lanstein pointed out on Twitter, this particular message contains several phrases — “free message”, “bill paid”, “gift” — that are supposed to be flagged by Verizon’s spam protection systems. And yet it was successful. And since this seemed to come from me, the text also successfully bypassed Apple’s “filter unknown messages” feature.
So what can be done? In addition to offering various anti-spam protection measures, Verizon and other US carriers encourage customers to forward unwanted text messages to SPAM (7726). However, some people may stop to report spam “from” their own number. I asked Verizon what happens in that situation.
If you are deeply upset about the unwanted text messages or calls you receive, you can always file a complaint with the FCC about these things, where “my own number is being spoofed” is a secondary issue that can be reported.
Aside from those options, all you can really do is delete the texts and wait for the next scam tactic that seems like it shouldn’t even be possible. Damn you scammers. Do better, carriers.
Update March 29, 12:30 pm ET: verizon tuesday He confirmed that he is aware of the situation and is working to block spam messages. The airline also said it is working with US law enforcement to find those responsible.