Aug. 16, 2012 at 3:52 PM ET
Scam text messages that try to lure you in by saying you've won free stuff are almost routine, and most people know to simply delete them. But the one that goes "You've won a free $1,000 Walmart gift card" is making the rounds again, now with Target also supposedly offering the gift. Don't fall for it — it's just a trap.
The text messages are known as "smishing" — a combination of text messaging (SMS) and phishing, the latter a longtime way to con people out of their information and money via email.
The new text message that many are receiving is a version of this one: "Dear [Walmart or Target] shopper, Congratulations you have just won a $1,000 Gift Card. Click here to claim your gift."
If you click to claim the "gift," you could be asked for credit card information "just" to cover the costs of shipping and handling your "present." And you know what happens when someone has that information: They use it buy their own presents.
"The FTC is aware of such attacks that have been going on recently," Claudia Bourne Farrell, a spokeswoman for the Federal Trade Commission told NBC News.
The ploy is a takeoff on an older telephone scheme, one that the FTC went to court over and won in 2008 against a defendant considered a "major architect" of the scam. Still, imitators abound.
Earlier this year, Walmart itself issued a warning about the ruse, saying in part, that the text messages and related sites being used in the scheme "are not from Walmart and Walmart is not associated with parties promoting this activity. Walmart will never initiate a text message where we ask for sensitive personal data like credit card information or Social Security numbers."
"We urge consumers to file complaints" with the agency if they have received the Walmart/Target text messages, Farrell said. Consumers can do so by calling the FTC's Consumer Response Center toll-free at 877-382-4357, or by going to its website.
The problem has been big enough in Rhode Island that state attorney general Peter F. Kilmartin recently issued a warning about it:
Consumers reported that they are being asked to provide credit card information to cover the cost of shipping and handling. Consumers who give this sensitive information may find themselves fulfilling "sponsor offers" like free trial offers with monthly fees or increased solicitations and junk mail.
If you get such a text message, don't reply to it — replying "to a spam text only verifies that your number is active, which will result in more texts," Kilmartin's office said. Don't click on any links in the text message, and don't ever give out your credit card info or any dealing with your bank account or Social Security number.