Text message mischief

The Postal Inspection Service has a message for consumers: Don’t become a “smishing” victim.

The law enforcement agency is warning the public about the scam — short for SMS phishing — in which fraudsters impersonate banks, credit card companies and even the Postal Service in text messages to lure recipients into divulging personal financial data.

Smishing is on the rise as consumers rely on their phones more and more — for bill paying, for shopping, even for multi-factor authentication.

Common lures include “your account has been suspended,” “there is suspicious activity on your account” and “there is a package waiting for you at the Post Office.” Some smishers have even taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic and contact tracing to pull off their flimflams.

“Educating people on how to identify a fake text and not click on the link is the best method we have to combat this scam,” said Andrea Avery, the Inspection Service’s national public information officer.

To that end, the agency’s website has a new smishing page with several suggestions for what to do when you receive a text message asking for personal information. These include:

Think. Verify the identity of the sender and ask yourself why they’re asking.

Don’t reply or click on links. Doing so may install malware on your phone.

Delete. Delete the text. Save a screenshot if possible.

Report. Report the text to the business or agency the scammer is impersonating.

Block spam and install security updates. The customer service department at your provider can help if you’re unsure about how to do this.

Think of personal information like cash. It can be used for any number of financial frauds. Be as circumspect about your personal data as you are about cash.

Smishing can be reported to the Inspection Service Cybercrime Team by sending an email, including a screenshot of the text, to spam@uspis.gov.

The Inspection Service website has additional information, including a public service announcement featuring Avery.

Virtual events

The USPS Ethics Office is providing guidance for Postal Service employees on participating in virtual events held by other organizations.

Many such events are being conducted over video or audioconferencing platforms rather than in person because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A virtual event is a gift if it has monetary value.

If a virtual event’s organizers are charging some attendees a fee to attend but are inviting postal employees to attend for free or at a discounted rate, the virtual event would be a gift to the postal employees.

If the invitation for the virtual event is from someone who does business with the Postal Service or is being offered because of the postal employee’s official position, the employee may not attend unless an exception or exclusion to the gift rules applies.

A virtual event that is free of charge to all attendees is not a gift, unless the event organizers are providing attendees a tangible benefit, such as entertainment or the shipment or delivery of items to attendees of printed materials or gift bags.

If the event organizers are providing attendees a tangible benefit, the postal employee may not attend unless an exception or exclusion to the gift rules applies.

If an employee wants to attend a virtual event that is not free to all, or the event organizers are providing a tangible benefit or item to participants at no charge, the employee should contact the Ethics Office for guidance.

The office will determine whether an exception or exclusion to the gift rules applies or the Postal Service’s agency gift acceptance authority may be used to accept the gift.

If you have questions, email the Ethics Office or call its hotline at 202-268-6346.