Fact-checked for accuracy and updated on 3/28/2023
Spam texts in the form of donation requests, sales notifications, marketing notices, and scams, among others, have been on the rise. Last year, Americans received more than 225 billion spam text messages, a 157 percent increase over 2021, according to a report by spam call and text app RoboKiller.
Scam texts can be especially problematic. For instance, I received a text message from a scammer posing as Citi-Debit urging me to click on a link for a “Mandatory (20) Assessment.” Clicking on the link took you to a phishing page set up to steal your banking credentials. It was pretty easy to spot since I don’t have a Citibank debit card, and I know what to look for, but others may not have been as fortunate.
Occasionally, scammers will get lucky and tap into something that's happening in your life that makes the message seem real. For instance, my mother-in-law was renewing her driver's license and got a text message asking her to confirm her information. But that text was another phishing scam, and she ended up submitting everything from her driver's license info and her social security number. If she hadn’t been in the process of renewing her license, she wouldn’t have been taken in by the scam. Instead, she had to take proactively take numerous steps to prevent her identity from being stolen. So always be skeptical
While it’s nearly impossible to stop spam text messages entirely, there are preventative measures you can take to reduce the number of unwanted texts you receive. Here are five things I recommend you do.
1. Don’t respond to spam texts
All that responding to a spam text does is confirm that your number is valid. Once spammers have your validated number, they can resell it, and you’ll end up receiving more text messages.
2. Don’t open links in texts unless you're 100% certain of the sender
When you click on a link, you run the risk of both installing malware on your phone or being taken to a phishing site that will try to harvest your logins or personal information. If you're not 100% sure of the sender, don't click. There's almost always another way of addressing the subject of a legitimate text than clicking through.
3. Report spam text messages
In Google Messages, open Settings and toggle on "Enable spam protection."
You can report spam/scam messages to your carrier by forwarding the text message to SPAM (7726). (Check out our stories on how to forward a text message on an iPhone and how to forward a text message on an Android phone.) Your carrier will reply with a text asking you to send the spammer’s/scammer’s number because that info isn't sent with a forwarded text.
If you are running iOS 16 on your iPhone, you can report a spam text message by tapping "Report Junk" under the message you've received. By tapping "Delete and Report Junk," you will be reporting the sender to Apple and your cellular carrier.
Android phone owners who are using the Google Messages app can also report spam text messages to Google. Press and hold the conversation you want to report, select Block (the circle with the slash in the top right) > Report spam > Ok.
You can also report scam texts to the FTC. If they get enough reports, they may investigate and pursue the biggest offenders.
4. Turn on spam text filtering
Android phones that use Google Messages or Samsung Messages have spam filtering built into the Messages app. For plain Android, turn it on by opening the Google Messages app and selecting the menu (triple dots or your profile picture in the upper right) > Settings > Spam protection > Enable spam protection. For Samsung phones, open the Samsung Messages app and select the menu (triple dots) > Settings > Block numbers and spam > Caller ID and spam protection and switch the toggle to on. Also, toggle on "Block spam and scam calls."
iPhones don’t have a spam filter, per se. However, you can choose to filter out messages from “Unknown Senders” from your “Known Senders” messages list and have them appear in a second tab entitled “Unknown Senders.” Go to Settings > Messages and toggle on “Filter Unknown Senders.” However, you’ll find that messages from delivery services, doctor’s offices, and other companies are categorized as “Unknown Senders,” making the feature somewhat unhelpful.
For third-party text-blocking apps, I haven't seen studies that show that they are better than Google's free spam protection, though you can block texts that have specific keywords with RoboKiller ($4.99 per month or $39.99 per year). Likewise, the iPhone apps will place suspected spam texts into the "Unknown Senders" tab, and you can block text with keywords using TextKiller ($4.99 per month and $39.99 per year). If you want to try a free third-party app, which doesn't have keyword blocking, I recommend TrueCaller, which we also recommend for call blocking.
5. Don’t give out your "real" number
You risk your number being stolen or sold whenever you share it to sign up for text notifications or enroll in a store loyalty program, giveaway, app, or service. If you need to give out a number, use a virtual phone line or burner number. (Read about your options in my story on how to keep your phone number private.)
[Image credit: Techlicious]