Gone smishin’: Put a hook in those rascals

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With so many of us addicted to our cell phones, it’s no wonder there are reportedly 20 billion (yes with a “b”) text messages sent each day. This allows the swindlers more chances to defraud us through “smishing.”

Smishing is a word that combines the SMS technology that sends text messages and phishing, which is a ploy to coax confidential information out of us. This word isn’t new but I checked and it hasn’t made its way into the Scrabble dictionary yet, but I digress.

Typically, a scam texter will fake a problem with one of our financial accounts and ask us to verify data. Other ploys they use are to pitch a low-cost mortgage, low-interest rate credit cards or promise free gift cards. Whatever the strategy, it has the same goal: To get us to respond and give up our personal information. Millions of these smishing texts can be launched simultaneously, so what can we do to avoid this onslaught of texts?

One of our best defenses is to be stingy with our phone number. Think about those contests you enter or any form you fill out that asks for this information. If there isn’t a reason for the company to call you back, don’t fill in that blank. Mobile apps that we install on our smartphones could also be part of the problem because the fine print in the user agreement may grant the app developer permission to use or sell our phone number and possibly even the numbers of your contacts.

Our other defense is to report SPAM messages to our carrier. Many major carriers allow us this option for free. Here’s how it works on an iPhone):

Click on the text message you would like to report.

Choose the forward option and type in 7726 (which spells SPAM); hit send.

You will get a message back that says something like “Thank you for reporting spam. Please reply with sender’s number.” Reply to this message, which should go back to 7726 by typing in the offender’s phone number, then hit send.

You will get a message back saying “Thank you, we appreciate your assistance.” Then they tell you to block the number. Some phones allow you to select “Report as SPAM.” I think I’m going to find this feature handy.

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WHEN VALID ISN’T: If you’re 16 or older and have a U.S. passport, the expiration date states it will expire 10 years from the date of issue, but as a practical matter it really expires in 9.5 years.

For children, passports are valid five years or effectively 4.5 years.

International travelers need to be aware of the six-month validity passport rule that many countries adhere to for our passport expiration dates. This means that if you plan to travel internationally and your passport is due to expire within six months of departure, it would be wise to renew it as soon as you can.

This rule is imposed by foreign countries and not by the U.S. government. Most countries but not all will not allow a traveler to enter their country unless the passport is set to expire at least six months after the final date of travel. So before you book your international vacation, make sure your passport is valid for the proper length of time.

If you discover that you need to renew your passport, keep in mind that normal processing is four to eight weeks but for an additional fee it’s possible to expedite the request.

Be aware that Mexico and most Caribbean countries are on the list that adheres to the six-month validity rule. For more information on this rule and how it might impact you, visit the passport help guide website: https://bit.ly/2RseQ5b

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SHARE SPARINGLY: While it’s unlikely you can fully protect yourself against identity theft, there are certain things you can do to make it a lot more difficult for thieves to get their hands on your personal information.

Things to never post on Facebook include your birthday, home address, phone number, Mother’s maiden name, and Social Security number.

Other things to avoid posting include your daily schedule and when you’re going on vacation. It might be fun to post your vacation pictures while you’re still gone, but many times this information becomes clear to criminals, too. Wait until you return to post those memories.

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CONSUMER GAL LIVE: This Wednesday at 10 a.m., I’ll be giving a presentation on scams and how seniors can protect themselves. You’re invited to join me at Real Life Ministries, 1860 N. Cecil Road in Post Falls.

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REMEMBER: I’m on your side.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. Please include your name and a phone number or email. I’m available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. I’m a copywriter and consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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