Scam Texts Are More Painful Than Getting a Root Canal

Sick and tired of scam messages? So are the 54% of Americans who said they’d rather get a root canal than fall for one of those scams. 

That’s one of the striking findings we uncovered in our Global Scam Message Study. We surveyed more than 7,000 adults worldwide including more than 1,000 in the U.S. for their thoughts on scam messages and texts. And just how painful they are.  

If it seems like you’re getting more scam messages than before, you’re not alone. We found that Americans receive an average of 11.6 fake messages or scams each day. And it’s getting tougher to tell what’s real and what’s fake. More than 80% of Americans said that it’s harder than ever to spot if a text, email, or social media message is a scam. 

What’s driving this fresh flood of increasingly believable scam messages? AI – and if you’ve tuned into our blogs this past year, that likely comes as little surprise.  

As we’ve reported, the bad actors out there have supercharged their scams with AI tools. Effectively, AI makes it far easier to spin up their scams in two significant ways: 

  1. AI does the writing for them. Instead of spending hours cooking up scam-worthy stories, AI does the work in seconds.
  2. AI makes the messages look more legit. Before AI tools, you’d often find scam messages loaded with typos and grammatical errors. And sometimes they felt awkward. They didn’t make sense when you read them. Not so with AI. It can write far more smoothly than many bad actors can. 

With that comes the inevitable fallout. Two-thirds (65%) of Americans have clicked or fallen for a scam. Of them, 45% lost money as a result, and 15% of them lost more than $1,000. 

Engaging with scam messages can be costly and stressful.  

Now, about that root canal stat. People who fall victim to online messaging scams really do find it painful. Particularly as the time and money lost to those scams take their toll. Some people found them so painful, they said they’d rather deal with the following instead: 

  • Doing taxes every month – 57% 
  • Sleep in a haunted house for one night – 55% 
  • See the dentist for a one-time root canal – 54% 
  • Get hit with 24-hour food poisoning – 40% 

Ouch. You probably have your own answer to this “would you rather” question, but clearly people feel pretty fed up with this deluge of scam messaging. 

You can get a little more insight into those feelings by looking at all the time they waste. Our study found that the average American spends more than an hour-and-a-half each week reviewing, verifying, or deciding whether the messages they get are real or fake.  

Realistically, that’s the equivalent of watching a short feature film or streaming three shows or 94 minutes spent doing just about anything else. Add that up, and it amounts to more than two full work weeks each year spent on scam-spotting.  

Specifically, we found: 

  • Over email, 95% of Americans surveyed indicate that they receive fake messages or scams via email daily. 40% receive five or more fake email messages each day. 
  • Via text, 87% of U.S. survey respondents indicate that they receive fake messages or scams via text each day. 30% receive five or more fake text messages each day. 
  • Over social media, 75% of the people surveyed indicate that they receive fake messages or scams via social media every day. 30% receive five or more of these social media scams daily. 

Today’s scam messages cloak themselves in clever camouflage. 

With the increased volume and more advanced appearance of scam messages, only 35% of Americans have avoided clicking on or falling for fake messages in the last year.  

This sophisticated trickery takes five common forms. Below, you can see the types of messages people in the U.S. said they received in the past year: 

  • “You’ve won a prize!” – 62% 
  • Info about a purchase the recipient didn’t make – 57% 
  • Fake missed delivery or delivery problem notification – 56% 
  • Amazon security alert, or notification messages regarding account updates – 43% 
  • Netflix (or a similar streaming service) subscription updates – 42% 

In line with these findings, 65% of survey respondents have believed that one or more scam messages they got were real. The messages they believed the most were: 

  • “You’ve won a prize!” – 25% 
  • Info about a purchase the recipient didn’t make – 22% 
  • Fake missed delivery or delivery problem notification – 20% 
  • Sign in and location verification messages – 20% 

AI scams have lowered people’s trust. 

With scams evolving into increasingly clever forms, 40% of U.S. survey respondents said their trust in digital communications has decreased. Put another way, 55% of people believe they have a better shot at solving the Rubik’s Cube than identifying a scam message. We further found: 

  • 37% of people said they don’t know if they are doing the right things to protect themselves.  
  • 33% of people said they ignore a message when they think an email or text might be a scam. 
  • 31% said they block the sender when they receive this type of message. 
  • 26% said they reported suspected scam messages. 

In all, AI has made the murky world of online scams that much murkier. And sadly, that’s partly ruined people’s time online. They spend a part of each day trying to decide if what they’re reading is real or fake. However, you can take a few straightforward steps that can spare you the pain and without having a root canal instead. 

How to protect yourself from scam messages. 

Think before you click.  

Cybercriminals use phishing emails or fake sites to lure people into clicking links that might lead to malware. If you receive an email or text message asking you to click on a link, it’s best to avoid interacting with the message altogether. Particularly if it’s a great-sounding deal or promises useful info. Always go direct to the source and interact with reputable companies. 

Remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  

Many scams are effective because the scammer creates a false sense of urgency or preys on a heightened emotional state. Pause before you rush to interact with any message that is threatening or urgent, especially if it is from an unknown or unlikely sender. 

Go “unlisted.” 

Scammers have to get your contact info from somewhere. Often, they get it from online data brokers and other “people finder” sites. These sites collect and sell massive amounts of personal info to any buyer. You can remove that info from some of the riskiest data brokers with our Personal Data Cleanup service. It can help you remove that info, and with select products it can even manage the removal for you. Likewise, set your social media accounts to “friends and family” only so that your profile info doesn’t show up in search results. 

Use AI to beat AI.  

From blocking dangerous links that appear in text messages, social media, or web browsers, you have AI on your side. McAfee Scam Protection automatically identifies and alerts you if it detects a dangerous URL in your text. No more wondering if a delivery message or bank notification text is real or not. McAfee’s patented AI technology instantaneously detects malicious links to stop you before you click by sending an alert message. It’ll even block risky sites if you accidentally click on a scam link in a text, email, social media, and more. You’ll find it in our online protection plans like our award-winning McAfee+ subscriptions. 

You have what it takes to beat AI messaging scams. 

Root canals and Rubik’s Cubes aside, you can protect yourself against AI messaging scams. Even as these scams look more and more like the real thing, the same protections apply. In fact, you have new AI-driven tools that can keep you safer too. If there’s one thing we’ve talked about in our blogs plenty as of late, it’s how AI works both ways. While scammers have their AI tools for hoodwinking you, you have AI tools that can keep you safer too. 

It’s easy to feel a little helpless with all these AI scams floating about. Yet you really can take far more control than you might think. In fact, online protection software like ours is the most sophisticated it’s ever been. It’s truly an all-in-one fix for protecting your devices, privacy, and identity and for keeping scam messages at bay.

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