Many of us have set up a spam folder in our email accounts where pesky unwanted emails end up — so at least we have a good idea of what spam emails can look like. But we’re also increasingly being sent unsolicited messages by text and other messaging apps, which is really annoying — and in the worst case can even threaten our online privacy.
Reason enough, then, to know the steps to take to spot and stop spam messages on your Android phone or iPhone — and at the same time improve your device’s security and your online privacy with multi-feature solutions. Read on to learn more.
What are spam messages?
You’ve probably heard of the term spam or at least know about it from everyday definitions like “stupid pointless annoying messages” or “shit posing as mail”.
But did you know that SPAM — Sp(iced) (h)AM — is also a brand of canned meat that’s been around for years and was available on almost every street corner in Britain even during wartime? Comedy sketches have even been made about it, like in the British comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus where SPAM is served to every guest without them even asking for it — inspiring the term spam.
Although illegal, in addition to spam emails we are now increasingly receiving unwanted spam texts on our mobile phones, such as via SMS or our messenger services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or Telegram.
How do cybercriminals get cell phone numbers?
Scammers often get their hands on our cell phone numbers through the dark web or via data leaks. For example, in a leak in 2021, the personal information of over half a billion Facebook users appeared on a hacker forum. This was of course like Christmas had come early for cybercriminals, who immediately exploited this data, using the hijacked cell phone numbers to send annoying spamming messages on a massive scale and even set up botnets to automatically distribute SMS spam.
How to spot spam texts
As the backronym goes, “shit posing as mail” might cause you to think that spam messages are quite harmless. Let’s banish that misconception right away. That’s because there are many ways cybercriminals scam people using spam texts to get their victims to hand over such things as personal information. And the worst part is that they’re often successful enough. Here are just a few examples:
- You’re promised a fantastic prize and your chances are extremely good — or you’ve already won.
- The tax office or your energy provider cannot refund you, so supposedly need your details again for verification purposes.
- A friend or family member is in financial distress and is at risk of something terrible happening to them if you don’t “rescue” them with a payment right away.
SMS phishing has a name: Smishing
Smishing is nothing else than a type of traditional phishing method performed using a text message, where the mass sending of text messages aims to ensnare as many victims as possible.
Smishing is designed to make incoming messages appear as if they come from a trusted person, company, or organization. Cybercriminals’ obvious aim is to steal personal information or your online banking access details or otherwise compromise your mobile phone (such as to make your smartphone part of a botnet or install malware).
Smishing also takes advantage of the fact that many of us are more careless with our smartphones than with our PCs — and are more likely to open messages. In addition, mobile devices are often not as well protected as company computers, for instance.
That’s why we strongly recommend you equip your smartphone and/or tablet with tried-and-tested virus protection from an established provider. Avira Antivirus Security for Android or Avira Mobile Security for iOS are multi-feature solutions which include a host of handy tools to improve your device’s performance and security as well as your online privacy — even with the free version.
Banks warn of spam texts
Financial institutions are always warning us of fraudulent texts that mention such things as “changing security regulations” or “authorization app access ending soon”. The aim: Cyberscammers want to get you to tap the provided link so they can then access your online banking details.
If you’re unfortunate to get such a spam message, NEVER respond and contact your bank if in doubt.
DHL warns of fake texts
In Germany, the parcel service company DHL has been warning repeatedly of fake texts — and not just since the beginning of 2023: “Text messages are doing the rounds, asking for your address or to update your details”. Never tap the link in such a message. According to the company, the text does not originate from DHL itself, even if the sender is DHL or DHL Paket.
“Some of these texts even appear in your actual, older text history with DHL, so seem legitimate,” added the company. In principle, though, you’ll never be asked by text for payments, address updates, or other information.
The “grandchild” or “mom” trick
The grandchild or mom trick method begins with spam texts on WhatsApp, Telegram, or via SMS saying something like “Hi mom, it’s me. I lost my phone and this is my new number”. If you respond, scammers will set about their dastardly deeds fairly quickly and ask for a large amount to be transferred to an account. Sometimes they may say something about an alleged rent debt that needs to be paid as soon as possible or a sensationally cheap and time-limited offer.
This form of spam texting is always about tricking you, the victim, out of large amounts of money, knowing full well that you would rescue your kids or grandchildren from a financial emergency at any time.
How to stop spam texts on iPhone
If you use an iPhone, you can block unwanted texts, filter messages from unknown senders, and also report junk or spam messages in the Messages app.
To block text messages from a specific person or number on iPhone:
- In the Messages app, open the message, then tap the name or phone number (at the top of the screen) of the conversation you want to block.
- Next, tap the Info button, scroll down, and then select Block this Caller.
To view and manage the list of blocked contacts and phone numbers, first open the Settings app, then tap Messages, followed by Blocked Contacts.
How to block text messages from unknown cell phone numbers on your iPhone:
- Open the Settings app on your iPhone.
- Then tap Messages and swipe up until you see Message Filtering.
- Turn on Filter Unknown Senders.
If turned on, you’ll see a Filters button on the top left in the Messages app. To see messages from people who aren’t in your contacts, you’ll now need to go to Filters > Unknown Senders.
For a little added security, you can’t open links in messages from unknown cellphone numbers until you add them to your contacts or reply to the message.
iMessage allows you to report potential junk or spam messages to Apple. To do this, tap Report Junk in the message, then tap Delete and Report Junk. The sender’s contact information and the message are sent to Apple, and the message is permanently deleted from your device.
How to stop spam texts on Android
If you use an Android phone, you can customize some general preferences directly in your texting app to improve your protection against spam texts. In our example we use a Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G running Android 13.
- First, tap the texting app icon, then tap More options (the icon with three vertical dots), then select Settings.
- Now go to Block numbers and spam and toggle on the slider next to Block calls from unknown numbers to no longer receive text messages from unknown mobile numbers.
- Tap Block spam and scam calls and turn on this feature in the next step.
If you want to specifically block individual numbers, you can do so quickly and easily simply by tapping the relevant message and then selecting Block number.
Additional tips for dealing with spam texts
As mentioned, a tried-and-tested antivirus solution like Avira Antivirus Security for Android or Avira Mobile Security for iOS is an absolute must-have on any smartphone or tablet. Choose this solution, and even with the free version you’ll get to enjoy many other tools to improve your device’s security and your online privacy, such as the built-in VPN and the permissions manager.
And the alarm bells should certainly be ringing about any texts you receive:
- Unexpected spam texts are mostly sent to you from unknown numbers, and if there is a link in that message, you should be extra careful — and never tap it.
- What’s doubly deceitful: You can also get spam texts from contacts in your address book. In such a case, your contact’s smartphone may have been hacked, resulting in it sending spam texts automatically to the person’s entire contacts list.
- If the cell phone number of one of your contacts is compromised, you’ll often receive more personal text messages, announcing things like photos from the most recent company party or vacation shots that can be viewed via a link. If you tap that link, you often have to reveal personal data — or, in particularly audacious cases, you automatically book very expensive services the moment your finger hits the screen.
- Pay attention to the wording. This usually shows whether the message actually comes from a person you know. If in doubt, you can also just call the person and ask if they texted you. If not, the affected person most likely unknowingly installed malware on their phone. That said, never call unknown numbers.
- Even your bank will never text you asking you to call them back. Don’t fall for it, because the number you are supposed to call can easily run into a three-figure sum. If in doubt, it’s best to call your bank using their official number.
- If you receive a text from DHL or another parcel service company, never open the link contained in it under any circumstances. That’s because parcel service companies typically only send you short automated messages without a link. Parcels should always be tracked using the tracking number on the company’s official website or the relevant apps.
- If offers in text messages sound too good to be true, never follow the instructions. The odds of Warren Buffett wanting to gift you a fortune are slim to none — and you certainly won’t ever be told by text that you’ve inherited something from a long-lost aunt you’ve never heard of.