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Mobile phone scams

As New Zealanders go mobile, so does cybercrime. A summary of scams targeting mobile and smart phones.

The Set-Up

You get a text inviting you to download an app and play in a competition.

The Hook

You're intrigued to see what it's all about.

The Sting

Before long you notice massive charges to your phone bill. You may even discover that your other accounts have been hacked.

What a mobile phone scam looks like

As New Zealanders go mobile, so does cybercrime. Smartphones open new doors for cybercriminals and scammers. They are mini-computers. A gateway to billing accounts, email accounts, text messages… The list goes on.

Cybercriminals can on-sell valuable personal information. This may also use your information to steal your identity, or to target you with other scams.

Even if you don’t have a smartphone, you can still be affected by a mobile phone scam.

Mobile phone scams work by:

  • Using malicious applications to take over your smartphone
  • Tricking you into texting or phoning a premium rate number and making massive charges to your phone bill

Lost your phone? If it is not locked with a password, whoever finds it has access to all of your data. And they haven't needed to do a single thing.

Types of mobile phone scam

Malicious apps

You can download an app for pretty much anything. To get you to your nearest café, to measure your heart rate, to help you redecorate your house… But not all applications are created equal. Cybercriminals use apps to hide malware that, when downloaded, gives them complete control of your phone. And, most of the time you won’t even notice.

Read more about malware.

Competitions or trivia texts

This type of scam can affect you whether you have a smartphone, or not. You’re sent a text inviting you to enter a competition or play a trivia game. ‘Why not?’ you think.

What you’re not told is that each text you send is charged at a premium rate. And you'll probably end up paying for the messages you receive too.
Some may be real games or competition. But the prize will be worthless compared with what it costs you to take part.

Or there may be no game or competition. Scammers may simply start taking money, by making charges to your mobile phone account. It’s more than likely you’ll only realise once you get your phone bill or run out of credit.

Missed Call or Message Scams

You receive a 'missed call' message. You call back, without checking the number. It turns out that the number is a New Zealand, or overseas, premium rate call. The return call will be very expensive. The same technique can also be used with text messages.


Smishing is phishing for personal information by text message.

Read more about phishing.

Protect yourself from mobile phone scams

  • Lock your mobile device with a password.
  • Consider investing in mobile management and security software.
  • Stick to official distribution channels like iTunes when choosing apps. Check the publisher and reputation of every app you download. Also check what permissions you are agreeing to before downloading.
  • Check the numbers of text messages or missed calls. Make sure the number is a standard format. If the number is unusual in any way, or is an 0900 number, don’t respond. If the message was really important, whoever was calling would have left a voicemail.
  • Before responding to any text offer, make sure you can check a full list of terms and conditions. You need to know all of the charges you could end up paying. That includes charges for ending a subscription. Check that it’s not a scam by calling your mobile phone company. Ask them how much it costs to call the number involved.
  • Never accept any text-based offer or take part in any competition that does not tell you how to opt out whenever you want.
  • Never give out financial or personal information by text. Your bank or any other reputable bodies you deal with will never ask for information in this way.

Help protect others from mobile phone scams

If you’ve been affected by a mobile phone scam, please help us to warn others by reporting it to Scamwatch. Your personal details will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Report your scam here.

Last updated 19 November 2012