Scams Targeting Smartphones and Tablets

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Studies show the vast (and growing) majority of American adults have a smartphone or tablet. People use these devices for everything from sending and receiving text messages and emails, to listening to music, using social media, tracking finances, ordering food, and much more. While these functions can keep people connected, they can also make folks vulnerable to scams.

Scams that target smartphones and tablets take advantage of the connectivity and convenience these devices offer. Here are a few to watch out for:

Email and Text Message Phishing Scams

Phishing scams use deceptive emails and text messages to lure consumers into providing their personal or financial information. To add legitimacy to their phony claims, scam artists often impersonate banks, government agencies, or other organizations. Phishing messages typically ask consumers to provide usernames and passwords, credit and debit card numbers, PINs, or other sensitive information that scam artists can use to commit fraud.

In addition, “clicking” on a link or opening an attachment can install spyware on your device that may send information from your phone to others without your consent or knowledge. While some spyware merely tracks your web surfing habits in hopes of learning your product preferences for marketing purposes, spyware can also be used by fraudsters to steal personal and financial information. Tech-savvy fraudsters also use software to capture keystrokes or pictures of your device's screen in the hope of snagging passwords, account numbers, Social Security numbers, or other sensitive information.

Be wary of any email or text message from someone you don’t know. If you receive a scam phishing message on your device, resist the urge to click on the link or phone number to call back. Phishing emails can be reported directly to your email provider, or can be forwarded to the Federal Trade Commission at Be sure to include the complete spam email. If you are an AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, or Bell customer, you may also report phishing text messages to short code 7726 (which spells “SPAM” on your keypad), free of charge. Doing so allows these service providers to identify the senders of such messages and take steps to limit messages from them in the future.

Look-alike Apps

Cybercriminals are now creating applications—or “apps”—that look and might even function like legitimate apps, but are actually malware designed to steal your personal and financial information, send text messages without your knowledge, or even track your location using your phone’s GPS capabilities. Because it operates in the background of a device’s operating system, malware may go undetected. The criminals that create look-alike malware apps use the information they receive to commit the crimes of theft and identity theft.

You can take steps to ensure the legitimacy of the apps on your smartphone or tablet by only buying or downloading apps from trusted sources. You can also check the Terms of Use or Privacy Policy to learn what information an app will access and how that information will be shared. If you have concerns about an app, delete it from your device and report it to your service provider or the app store from which you purchased it.

High-tech Scams

In a tech support scam, a person receives a call from someone who claims to be a “tech support specialist” with a well-known company. The caller may say that your device has been infected by a malicious virus or spyware. They may use scare tactics, claiming that your device will crash or the information on it will be at risk if you don’t immediately fix the problem. The caller may say they can correct the problem for a fee and sends you a link to a website that will allow them to remotely access your computer once you click on it. If you let the caller remotely access your device, they may install malware or spyware to steal your personal and financial information.

A similar scam is the “ransomware” scam in which an app or website installs malicious software that causes the app or your device to stop working. You then receive a message telling you that your device has been infected with a virus or malware. The message generally provides a telephone number to call to fix the problem. If you call the number, the scammer will ask you to pay money or download software to repair the problem. If you discover ransomware on your device, take it to one of your mobile network’s retail stores or a trusted local computer repair store.

Smartphone and tablet users should be careful about the websites they visit and suspicious calls and text messages they receive. If you have any trouble with your device, contact your service provider directly, using a trusted telephone number, like the one printed on your bill or on the company’s website. High-tech scammers often create bogus websites to trick device users into believing they are associated with a service provider—when, in reality, they are not.

Smartphone and Tablet Security Tips

To prevent a scam targeting your device, consider the following tips:

Additional Resources

You can learn more about device scams and security by talking with your service provider or by exploring the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website at

File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These agencies enforce the laws regarding scam calls and text messages. You may contact the FTC and FCC as follows:

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20580
(877) 382-4357
TTY: (866) 653-4261

Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20554
(888) 225-5322

For more information on consumer issues, contact the Office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison as follows:

Office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison
445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 296-3353 (Twin Cities Calling Area)
(800) 657-3787 (Outside the Twin Cities)
(800) 627-3529 (Minnesota Relay)

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