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May 31, 2022

Text message scams aren't new. But a fresh twist on an old scheme is making the rounds as fraudsters collect financial details and other personal data from unsuspecting victims. Crooks use this information to empty bank accounts, make fraudulent charges on debit and credit cards, and steal identities. Fortunately, the more you know about how this scam works, the less likely you are to fall for it.

How the Free Gift Scam Works

The free gift scam is similar to other successful scams because it convinces victims they need to act right away. When a scammer can ignite emotion, they're one step closer to getting their target to reveal confidential information.

There are several versions of this scam, but most begin with a text message that reads, "Free MSG: Thank you for paying your June bill. Here's a free gift for you." Scammers will often spoof the message so it appears to originate from a trusted source — or even your own phone number.

People who click on the message are told to take one of two actions:

  • Reply with bank account credentials, credit card or debit card numbers, or other financial data to verify their identity
  • Click on a hyperlink that opens up a webpage where they are instructed to enter their financial data

In both scenarios, the criminal uses your curiosity about the gift to get you to share information they can use to steal money from your accounts or collect private data they can sell to other bad actors.

Free Gift Scam Red Flags

Text message scams can be hard to recognize unless you know what to look for. Here are a few red flags that could alert you to a potential fraud scheme:

  • No company name appears in the message
  • You haven't signed up for text confirmation of bill payment
  • The month referenced in the bill is in the future (for example, "Thank you for paying your June bill" and it's February)

Criminals may use other emotion-based language to increase your desire to claim the gift before confirming whether the offer is legitimate. For example, phrases might include "You deserve it!" or "Limited time only."

Protect Yourself from the Free Gift Scam

Mobile service providers know about this fraud scheme and advise customers to protect themselves by:

  • Resisting the urge to reply to unsolicited texts especially if the message references a free gift or discount offer
  • Not clicking on hyperlinks included with the unsolicted text message since it could download malicious software onto your mobile device
  • Ignoring links sent from people you know until you've confirmed they actually sent them
  • Contacting the business before responding if caller ID displays the name of a company you're familiar with

Criminals often use phishing techniques to make the message look like it's coming from someone in your device's contact list or a well-known company. Businesses must have your permission to send you text message notifications. Never assume a text offering something for free is legitimate.

If you suspect a free gift scam, report it to your mobile service provider by forwarding the message to S-P-A-M (7726). You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These federal agencies collect data they can use to act against these bad actors.

Monitor your accounts for suspicious activity with HawaiiUSA Digital Banking. Receive email, text, or push notification alerts so you know when transactions post. Log in or Enroll for free today. 

If you suspect that you have given personal financial information to a scammer, contact your bank or credit union right away.