Smart warns of rise in SMShing to hijack social media profiles

Smart warns of rise in SMShing to hijack social media profiles
Elijah Mendoza, digital communications senior manager at Smart

PLDT’s wireless unit Smart Communications said on Tuesday that in the first quarter of this year, it has blocked more than 13 million SMShing (a.k.a. “smishing”) messages designed to help criminals take over people’s social media accounts.

SMShing is the SMS equivalent of email phishing. Like with email phishing, SMShing tries to get the victim to click a malicious link. However, SMShing uses short links, which makes it harder for users to see the actual link before they click.

According to Smart, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has linked SMShing to a rise in ‘hijack profile’ cases, in which attackers gain unauthorized access to someone’s social media account. In some cases, the victims are locked out of their own account, after which the attacker messages the victims’ contacts to ask for money, usually pretending to be sick or suffering from some other calamity.

Smart said that in addition to blocking SMShing messages, it has also blacklisted almost 200,000 mobile numbers involved in phishing activities.

Elijah Mendoza, digital communications senior manager at Smart, advised customers to be extra cautious when receiving SMSs with embedded short links, even if they appear to be from someone they know.

“Phishing is the most common technique employed by bad actors to trick you into revealing your data. Don’t go on autopilot mode and click or tap links,” Mendoza said.

SMS fraud has been a problem in the Philippines for years, although a 2022 law requiring people to register for prepaid SIM cards is often credited by regulators and telcos to have helped curb the problem.

In February, Globe Telecom said that it intercepted 21.9 million bank-related spam and scam SMSs in 2023, which is over 73% less that the 83.39 million messages it blocked in 2022.

However, mobile fraud remains one of the most common forms of fraud in the Philippines. According to survey data from Statista, 43% of consumers said they had been targeted by SMShing messages in the fourth quarter of 2023.

On Monday, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian – who co-authored the SIM registration law – said the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) needed to do more to enforce the law. According to the Philippine News Agency, Gatchalian cited recent cases in which authorities discovered that offshore gaming operators are still using unregistered SIMs.

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