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Don't be polite when you get a text from a wrong number

It starts with what looks like a harmless text from someone you do not know, but it is most likely a scammer on the other end.

SAN ANTONIO — You should immediately be suspicious of any text you get from a number not in your contacts. It may be innocent looking.

“It is saying: 'We are still on to meet for dinner at 6?' Or 'can you call me right away?” said Chris Drake, a phone security expert with iconectiv. “'It’s urgent.'”

“Almost every day there are two or three or four different text messages that come in and say something like ‘hey, how are you doing?’” said Peter Warmka, a cybersecurity expert and founder of The Counterintelligence Institute. “It’s like they know you, right? But you’re saying I don’t recognize this person. They’re mistaken.”

Your first reaction is to be polite and let them know they have the wrong number.

“Maybe this is urgent,” Drake said. “I should tell them: ‘You fat-fingered this and you need to correct the number. Try again.’”

“We all want to be helpful,” Warmka said. “'Hey, I’m sorry. This is not who you think it is.'”

Letting them know they made a mistake seems harmless, but responding opens you up to being scammed when a stranger attempts to build a friendship with you.

“Then they’ll try to engage you in conversation,” Warmka said. “Then you’re really opening up yourself because you don’t know who’s really behind that number.”

“You have just made them know that your number is a real number with a live person on the other side,” Drake said. “You’re live bait. You end up on the fraudsters favorite list because you’re that kind of person who will try to be helpful and eventually you may get to know them well enough to send them money, which is what often happens in this scam.”

It could turn into a romance or cryptocurrency scam.

“They will slowly reel you in very pleasantly,” Drake said. “They may take weeks of back-and-forth pleasantries before they launch the attack.”

Protect yourself by doing this:

“I don’t even respond at all and you shouldn’t respond," Warmka said. Just delete it."

Follow this rule from childhood:

“You never talk to strangers,” Drake said. “You teach your children that. Try to practice that yourself in today’s world.”

Other ways to protect yourself include freezing your credit to stop potential identity theft. Also, back up your phone so you can restore your information if you get malware

Know if you get a text from a five or six-digit number instead of a full phone number, it is because you requested to receive texts.

“Those are called short code messages,” Drake said. “Those are supported by a whole team of technology companies that work together to ensure a very safe environment and that it’s only using those messages for people that consented to receive them. It’s very difficult to impersonate or falsify and so it’s so much more trustworthy than if you get a 10-digit number that you don’t know and didn’t expect.”

Short codes are usually used by businesses to text you.

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