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spam has evolved into "SPASMS - spam using SMS"


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Asher Moses

June 30, 2009 - 12:02PM

Scammers are using SMS text messages to con money out of Australians.

Scores of Australians have reported receiving SMS messages saying they have won $123,000 but must reply to the message with their email address for instructions on how to claim the money.

Security researchers have already coined several catchy terms to describe this new type of attack, including "Smishing" - SMS phishing - and SPASMS - spam using SMS.

The reports come as Commonwealth Bank customers are being inundated with scam attempts by fraudsters posing as the bank.

The sustained scam campaign is one of the first in Australia to use SMS, fraudulent call centres and emails in a three-pronged attack.

In the most recent $123,000 SMS reward scam, some people who replied to the SMS have reported receiving an email soon after from "the iKobo money transfer office" in Thailand.

The message congratulates them "for being the lucky person chosen to receive an unclaimed iKobo Visa prepaid card that has been abandoned in our vault for 12 months".

The so-called card - from a money transfer made from Australia to Thailand a year ago - apparently has $123,000 credit but it cannot be claimed by staff because the practice would be "highly illegal and punishable by law for us".

To collect the money, the target simply has to provide their name and address and pay the courier postal fee, which is listed as around $1000 depending on the delivery method chosen.

Once the scammer receives the courier fee, they disappear and no card is ever received by the victim.

Maureen Chuck, a nurse from Sydney, received the SMS on Saturday morning but did not even consider replying.

"How do you win $123,000? If you had I think you'd get more than an SMS," she said.

"But there are people who are silly enough to do it - especially young people under 18."

A quick Google search of the sender's phone number - 856207348539 - reveals scores of other Australians who have reported receiving the same SMS recently.

The whocallsme.com site lists five pages of reports, largely from Australians, who have reported receiving the SMS.

More Australian victims can be found in a discussion thread on the Whirlpool forum.

Jay Liew, a security researcher with Websense Security Labs in the US, said scammers were turning to SMS because mainstream consumers were beginning to wise up to phishing scams sent by email.

People tended to let their guard down when receiving SMS messages, and unlike desktop email, mobiles do not yet have spam filters.

"Spammers and phishing attackers latch on to whatever medium of communication that people tend to use. I don't think the medium is that important, it's more about what's hot," said Liew.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recently published an alert on its SCAMwatch website informing people of the scam.

"Anyone responding will find themselves being asked for personal details and an upfront fee of thousands of dollars to release a non-existent prize," it wrote.

"Responding will also confirm the phone number to the scammers and provide spammers with a new email address to target."

The ACCC invites people who have received the scam SMS to call it and place a report on 1300 302 502.

In another type of SMS scam listed on the SCAMwatch site, victims are invited to enter a competition for a prize such as an MP3 player. But when they reply to the message, they are hit with extremely high charges such as $4 for each message sent or received.

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