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LITTLE ROCK - Cellular phone users across Arkansas - in fact, across the nation - have been targeted in the past few weeks by con artists who send text messages in efforts to steal personal financial information.

These unwanted text messages purport to be from legitimate businesses. They attempt to entice consumers into providing their private financial information by claiming the consumer has won a retail-store gift card or by saying a bank's security department needs account information. Consumers are asked to follow an Internet link or to call a phone number, at which point they may be prompted to provide credit-card, debit-card or Social Security numbers.

Because of the pervasiveness of this scam, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel today issued this Consumer Alert to urge Arkansans not to respond to these text messages.

"Consumers should never provide financial information to someone who sends a text message from an unfamiliar number as a means to ask for it," McDaniel said. "Those who seek that information in unsolicited text messages or emails will likely use it for criminal purposes. Just like 'phishing' emails, the best thing for consumers to do when they receive these text messages is to delete them immediately."

Many consumers are very familiar with "phishing" by email, the practice that con artists use to solicit personal information by posing as banks, credit card companies or even government agencies. These types of phishing schemes have moved to SMS, or text messaging, in a practice the federal government has referred to as "smishing."

Con artists obtain phone numbers from cell-phone number databases that can be purchased online. Most typically target prefixes specific to mobile phones. One way to reduce unwanted text messages is to register on the federal Do Not Call list, at www.donotcall.gov.

McDaniel recommended that consumers do the following if they fall prey to a "smishing" scheme:
Do not respond. Remember that no legitimate company will ever send an unsolicited text or email asking for personal information.
Contact the business or financial institution directly, using the consumer service number on an account statement or on the business' website, with any questions or concerns.
Contact the cell-phone service provider to find out if there are ways to reduce text spam. Some providers can block all text messages that originate from the Internet. Texts sent via the Internet are more likely than phone-to-phone texts to be scams.
More information about scam e-mail and text messages, as well as other consumer issues, is available at GotYourBackArkansas.org, the website of the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division. Also, consumers may contact the Division at (800) 482-8982 or (501) 682-2341.

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