If you have been inundated with strange looking texts over the last week then you're not alone.
We hate to break it to you but it's not a sudden rise in popularity; instead, the source of the suspicious messages is malware called FluBot, which spreads via SMS and can infect Android phones.
The calls and messages come from different numbers with Australian area codes, making them look like they are coming from legitimate people, when in fact if you click on the link in the messages you will install malicious malware.
The messages will often be misspelled with a suspicious link attached, for example: “a1bcd2 Voicemail: You have 1 new Voicemail(s). Go to [link]”
The messages look like they've been sent by real people
Comedian Em Ruschiano asked Telstra why this was happening after discovering hundreds of her Instagram followers were getting the same missed call messages.
Telstra explained that basically the messages come from “legit devices all around the world” and are difficult to block. The scam started overseas but has now made its way to Australia.
— Em Rusciano (@EmRusciano) August 11, 2021
The point of the scam is for users to click on the link in the message which will download malware to the phone.
It’s important to note scam calls and messages are a global issue and impacting other carriers as well as Telstra.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission told Yahoo News Australia that Scamwatch, which is run by the ACCC, started receiving complaints of SMS on August 4 and has since received more than 300 reports of the messages.
"Many reporters note they are receiving one new text message of this scam daily," a spokesperson from the ACCC said.
"We have no reported financial losses to this scam, and no reported instances of individuals installing the malware."
What can I do to stop it?
Unfortunately for Android users, the scam messages pose more of a risk as it doesn't affect iPhones, even though iPhone users can still receive the messages.
"As above, it’s not a case of blocking these calls – scammers are sophisticated and stopping them is an intensive and ongoing process," A Telstra spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.
There isn't a fast way to put an end to the messages, with Telstra advising people to not click on any links that look suspicious.
According to the Telstra website, if you do click on a link, it will take you to a web page that is made to look like a trusted brand (like Telstra). It will then prompt users to install an app, for example, to listen to the voicemail message left in the text message.
If the user gives permission to install, then the FluBot malware will be downloaded onto the phone.
What happens if FluBot is installed?
Telstra's cyber experts say that once installed, the malware has access to everything stored on your phone, including passwords.
The software can then copy your contacts to send the scam message to all of them, but the sender won’t be listed as you.
"FluBot is a sophisticated piece of malware because it spreads by sending SMS messages to random mobile numbers, as well as mobile numbers scraped from a compromised Android device’s contact list," the company's website explains.
Can I block the numbers?
Users can block the numbers, but it’s a sophisticated piece of malware that works by sending SMS messages to random numbers, so they can pop up again from a different number.
Each time it does this it creates a new, unique link, making it difficult to block at a network level. These messages are also being sent from infected devices all across the world.
Once installed, the malware can access your personal information — such as your banking details — if you use these features while infected.
URGENT WARNING: Receiving text messages that look like this from Australian numbers saying you’ve missed a call? Delete these messages immediately and do not click on the link – it’s a #scam and will download malware! We’re working with industry to #stopthescam pic.twitter.com/Gb2JYMoPWL
— Scamwatch_gov_au (@Scamwatch_gov) August 12, 2021
What should I do if my phone is infected?
It can be hard to tell if your phone is the victim of a malware attack, as you won't be able to see if your phone is sending out messages.
However, there are a few warning signs to look out for:
A new app called "voicemail" with a blue cassette in a yellow envelope. If you try to uninstall you receive an error message “You can not perform this action on a system service.”
People complaining about messages you sent them but you did not know about the messages.
Telstra may detect you sending very high volumes of messages and send you an SMS, saying: “Your phone is sending many SMS and may be infected with malware/virus. Please remove the malware app or we may suspend your ability to send SMS. Search FLUBOT on Telstra website or call us for help.”
According to Telstra, if your device is infected, you should immediately remove the malware and change all of your passwords (but make sure you change these on a separate, not infected device).
You can read more here about removing FluBot from your device.
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