Cell phone users: beware of scam targeting your inbox - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Cell phone users: beware of scam targeting your inbox

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

It's been just over 20 years since the first text message was sent.

And now Americans send billions of those messages a month.

That's a difficult number for scam artists to ignore.

Before you reply to a promotional message send to your phone beware scammers are now sending tens of millions of texts designed to get personal information out of you.

This is what the message looks like "Hey you, you can get a thousand dollar gift card from Walmart."

"It's intriguing," said Charles A. Harwood with the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. 

"It's puzzling. It's tempting and they end up wanting to click on it."

How common are these text messages.

"They said, 'Congratulations, you have won a free gift card,' said David Gracey. 

"But, after the third text in under a week saying I won a free gift card, I knew I couldn't be that lucky."

The FTC is cracking down charging 29 individuals and companies from around the US with sending more than 180 million unwanted text messages.

First, spam text messages are illegal. 

And the FTC says these so called free gift cards are anything but free. 

If you actually click on the link you have to keep putting in more and more personal information.

"As many as 13 different offers are required to complete supposedly just to receive this free gift card," said Steve Wernikoff a Federal Trade Commission Investigator. 

"The offers they're presented with include offers to apply for credit, offers to sign up for a free trial offer for various products. At the end of the day, after they complete all those steps, 13 or more steps, they're often presented with something that says now find three more people who will fill out this information."

According to a study by Cloudmark, 60 percent of consumers said they had received a spam text message in the last year. 

Blocking the text message is not so easy. 

"The telephone companies have some methods to attempt to block spam text messages, but you need to know the number you want to block, and the problem with these scams is that the numbers change so regularly," said Hardwood. 

So what should you do if you receive one of these messages?

Well, the FTC says to forward it to your carrier by typing in 7726 or spam."

And what about that promise of a gift card. 

"When you had your people go through the process did they end up getting a gift card?"

"None of my investigators who did go through the process did receive a gift card," said Hardwood.

The spammers are offering gift cards from major retailers, like Best Buy, Walmart and Target.

The FTC says these companies have nothing to do with these scams.

The people behind this are individuals and marketing companies trying to gather your personal information.

The FTC is now asking the courts to put a stop to it and they want the companies responsible to reimburse consumers who might have lost money on these spam offers.

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