MONEY Shopping

Girl Scouts Raise Cookie Prices

Ashley Rubin, 9, holds a sign during Girl Scout Troop 582's cookie training session at Beach Vineyard Church in Panama City Beach, Florida, 2015.
Heather Leiphart—AP Ashley Rubin, 9, holds a sign during Girl Scout Troop 582's cookie training session at Beach Vineyard Church in Panama City Beach, Florida, 2015.

Stocking up on your favorite Thin Mints and Samoas could put a bigger dent in your wallet this year.

Five bucks for a box of Thin Mints? That’s how much Girl Scout cookie fans will pay in some regions of California, up from $4 a year ago. In parts of the South, prices will rise to $4 a box from $3.50.

As cookie-selling season gets under way, Girl Scout councils in San Diego, Orange County, and Greater Los Angeles are hiking prices for the first time in a decade. The increase will bring more money into local scout troops—about 27% more per box by their estimates, the WSJ reports. Each council sets prices in its own region (in the New York area, prices are staying at $4.)

In March, the Girl Scouts announced that they were taking cookie sales online. It also introduced three new flavors for 2015. This latest change is attributed to increased prices charged by the baker (up 19%) and higher operating costs (up 28%), according to a statement from the Greater Los Angeles Council.

Price hike or no, the Girl Scouts say you’re still getting a bargain. At the local rate of inflation, a box of cookies should actually cost $5.84.

MONEY online shopping

Amazon Prime Membership Should Come With a Warning

Amazon Prime packages
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

And the warning is: After paying $99 for your subscription, you're going to spend a ton of money at Amazon.com.

Amazon rarely releases sales data to the media. Nonetheless, the idea that customers who subscribe to Amazon Prime wind up shopping and spending a lot more at Amazon is considered fact. After all, once customers are paying $99 for the service and know that express two-day shipping is available for free on nearly all purchases, it makes sense that they’ll stop shopping elsewhere and do most if not all of their online shopping at the site. It helps, of course, that Amazon has a reputation not only for selling a huge variety of merchandise, but for having low prices as well.

But what impact, exactly, does signing up an Amazon Prime membership have on the individual’s online purchasing habits? Again, it’s hard to say because Amazon is reticent to release data. What’s more, things are complicated because the people who find it most worthwhile to join Amazon Prime are those who shop often at Amazon in the first place. (When you’re a member, the more you spend, the more you “save,” at least in terms of shipping.) So it’s not simply a matter of figuring out how much Prime members versus non-Prime members spend at the site.

Still, it’s undeniable that Prime members spend a bunch more at Amazon than non-Prime members. In a recent story by a couple of my MONEY colleagues about Apple, Amazon, and Google in terms of investing opportunities, a ComScore report is mentioned revealing that “Prime members make twice as many purchases as nonmembers, and they spend 40% more per transaction.”

Read more: Why You Should Never Buy Stuff When You’re Sad

This week, a new survey was released by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (hat tip: Huffington Post) with some precise dollar figures regarding the topic. According to a survey of consumers who made purchases at Amazon from October to December 2014, Prime members say they spend an average of about $1,500 at the site annually, versus $625 for non-members.

Owning an Amazon Kindle is also correlated with increased Amazon.com spending. Kindle owners (who may or may not also be Prime members) spend $1,450 per year at Amazon, compared to $725 per year for customers who don’t own Kindles, according to the survey. “Similar to Amazon Prime members, Amazon Kindle owners are better customers,” Mike Levin, partner and co-founder of CIRP, said in a press release about the new report. “They also shop more frequently, and also buy more expensive items on average.”

All in all, the spending data spells out plainly why Amazon pushes sales of Prime and Kindles so hard. In particular, the world’s largest retailer has been relentless in upping the Prime value pitch by adding streaming services, producing original movies, and such. Just last weekend, for instance, Amazon dropped the price of Prime to $72 and allowed everyone to stream its Golden Globe Award-winning online show “Transparent” as a way to show off one of the perks of being a Prime member.

Read more: Amazon Is Making It Easier to Publish Your Own Kindle Textbooks

It’s no mystery that Prime membership, Kindle ownership, or both are essentially gateways that welcome online shoppers into the Amazon consumershere and result in sharply increased spending at the site.

On the other hand, there’s good reason to believe that people who aren’t Prime members are more likely to shop around and make purchases at Amazon only when it’s clearly the most convenient or cheapest option. They don’t automatically defer to making purchases at Amazon, like Prime members appear to do. And based on some recent studies indicating that Amazon doesn’t have the cheapest prices across the board, it seems wise to browse a range of retailers rather than immediately head to Amazon for a one-click purchase of your latest need.

Read next: Amazon Outbid Netflix For Its Most Successful Show

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY consumer psychology

Panic Shopping! How a Blizzard Turns Us into Irrational Hoarders at the Grocery Store

A long line of shoppers wait beside mostly-empty shelves in the bread aisle of a grocery store, as people stocked up on items ahead of an approaching snowstorm, in Alexandria, Virginia, USA, 12 February 2014.
Michael Reynolds—epa/Corbis A long line of shoppers wait beside mostly-empty shelves in the bread aisle of a grocery store, as people stocked up on items ahead of an approaching snowstorm, in Alexandria, Virginia, USA, 12 February 2014.

Weather forecasts aren't nearly as reliable as the reaction by shoppers when a bad storm has been predicted. And by reaction we mean overreaction.

Almost exactly a year ago, supermarkets cashed in as shoppers rushed in and ransacked store shelves in anticipation of snowy weather and the polar vortex’s subzero temperatures hitting a broad swath of the country. This week, it’s largely the same story in the Northeast, what with a historic blizzard said to be threatening New England and much of the Mid-Atlantic region.

Over the weekend, the panic hoarding began, with shoppers emptying grocery store shelves and grabbing every last loaf of bread, carton of eggs, and bottle of milk in sight. On Sunday, shoppers at one New Jersey supermarket reported it being nearly impossible to find a parking spot outside the store, while inside the scene was one of empty coolers where milk used to be, employees fighting through crowds to restock shelves, and endless lines snaking away from cash registers. Likewise, shoppers have been sharing photos of the crazy mob scenes over the weekend inside grocery stores in Boston, New York City, and elsewhere with #Snowmaggedon2015, #Blizzardof2015, or whatever your preferred nickname is for the storm.

By now, this kind of pre-storm mad rush at the supermarket is to be expected. Heck, it’s far more reliable than the actual weather forecasts ever are. And to some extent, this behavior is reasonable. We’re relentlessly instructed to take precautions, prepare for the worst, go the route of better safe than sorry, and … you get the gist. You don’t want to be stuck in a blizzard without a shovel or enough food to last for a few days, after all.

Yet, as with so many other things involving human beings, there’s a tendency to go completely overboard. What starts out as a prudent and sensible shopping excursion can quickly devolve into a frenzied, agitated exercise in hoarding at an overcrowded supermarket or hardware store, as the ugly, primal side of humanity rises to the surface.

During the polar vortex of early 2014, for instance, some supermarket customers reported that meat and bread were swiped from their shopping carts while their backs were turned. Ever since Superstorm Sandy left gas stations without gas and led to some instances of price gouging where gas was available, drivers have been known to flock to the pumps to fill up when a big storm is in the forecast. Far more often than not, of course, it’s wholly unnecessary to wait in line for 30 minutes or longer just to top off your gas tank.

What is it, then, that pushes us over the edge? Why do shoppers head out to the store in preparation of some snow and perhaps a couple days without power, and then they (OK—we) wind up hoarding all manner of goods as if preparing for the apocalypse?

Part of the explanation is mob mentality. When we see others streaming into stores and snatching up perishable goods by the cartload, we feel pressure to do the same. Perhaps, we think, these crazed shoppers all around us know something we don’t? It’s easy to see how this mentality snowballs—excuse the pun—when an epic blizzard is expected. This kind of thinking also pushes consumers into the realm of irrationality on days like Black Friday, when the bustle of crowds and competition causes people to overreact and buy things they wouldn’t have had there not been dozens of shoppers fighting to get their hands on some supposedly hot, must-have holiday purchase.

Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, an author and frequent TIME and MONEY contributor, explained via email that no matter if it’s Black Friday or the day before a blizzard or hurricane is about to hit, when crowds descend on stores we essentially revert to cavemen. “Clearly we’re responding to emotions and crowds, and our brains are a few steps behind,” said Yarrow. What else could explain the act of rampaging through the supermarket and “greedily grabbing the last can of Spam”?

“It starts with a normal impulse to stock up on things that might not be available for a few days,” Yarrow said. “Panic hits when the stores are jammed with other shoppers and the shelves look a little bare. It’s not so much a thought as it is an impulse that hits, and it’s associated with the caveman parts of our brain that take over when we perceive we might be in physical danger. We are prewired to fight for food when we sense that resources are scarce.”

Afterwards, we’re likely to look back on our behavior with puzzlement, and perhaps embarrassment. “Shoppers are going to find that canned food in the back of their pantries someday and wonder what they were thinking,” said Yarrow. “The fact is, they really weren’t thinking. Primal brain took over.”

Try to keep this in mind when, inevitably, the next “historic” storm is on the horizon and your supermarket seems to have been invaded by hoarding barbarian masses. By then, however, it’ll probably be too late. You’ll be in the store, not thinking, and instead following the primal impulse to race to get the last loaf of bread before it’s gone.

Speaking of which, anyone have any good recipes that involve Spam? Somehow, I have a bunch in the pantry, though I don’t remember even buying them.

MONEY Travel

Say ‘Buh-Bye!’ to Skymall: In-Flight Catalog Files for Bankruptcy

Tchotchke retailer Skymall and parent company Xhibit Corp. have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

MONEY health

Smoking Can Cost You $1 Million to $2 Million in a Lifetime

smoking cigarette wrapped in money on ashtray
John Knil—Getty Images

Your pack-a-day habit isn't just destroying your lungs, but your bank account as well—more than you ever imagined.

According to the American Lung Association, tobacco kills nearly half a million Americans annually and costs the nation $333 billion per year in health-care expenses and lost productivity to boot. But it’s hard for the average person—specifically, the average smoker—to wrap one’s brain around such an enormous figure.

Coming to the rescue, timed to coincide with the CDC’s Tobacco Awareness Week, is a new state-by-state analysis from WalletHub detailing the lifelong financial costs of smoking for an individual. Because the average price of a pack of cigarettes varies widely around the country—$5.25 in Virginia, $8 in Michigan, $12.85 in New York—the lifetime outlay varies greatly from state to state as well. In all cases, though, the data gathered by WalletHub show that smoking is incredibly costly in addition to being potentially deadly.

The total cost per smoker is estimated at $1,097,690 in South Carolina—and it’s the least expensive state in the nation. A Kansas City Star headline noted that the “cost of smoking is cheap in Missouri … relatively,” as the state ranks as the eighth least expensive on WalletHub’s list, with the total cost for a lifetime of smoking running “only” $1,177,230. At the high end of the spectrum, there’s Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut, where the habit costs more than $1.9 million per person in a lifetime. Priciest of all is Alaska, which crosses the $2 million mark.

For a little perspective, federal data estimates that the cost of raising a child to age 18 is about $250,000—a big chunk of change, but only a small fraction of expenses reportedly incurred by smokers.

Right about now, the average smoker (or just the average reader with a healthy degree of skepticism) is probably thinking: hogwash. The process of coming up with such wild figures must involve a fair amount of smoke and mirrors, so to speak, right?

Let’s have a look at what WalletHub did, exactly. By far, the largest expense incorporated into the per-person total is the “tobacco cost per smoker,” measured at $786,346 in South Carolina, up to roughly $1.5 million in Alaska. WalletHub came up with that figure by multiplying the average price of a pack of cigarettes in each state by the number of days in 51 years. Fair enough. There are cheaper ways to go about buying cigarettes, like buying smokes by the case, but many people purchase by the pack.

What’s trickier is the way that WalletHub pumped up its tobacco cost estimates by calculating “the amount of return a person would have earned by instead investing that money in the stock market over the same period. We used the historical average market return rate for the S&P 500 minus the inflation rate during the same time period to reflect the return in present-value terms.” In other words, the assumption is that money not spent on cigarettes would have been dutifully and wisely invested over those same 51 years.

Similar assumptions have also been used in the now (mostly) discredited “latte factor,” which is the theory that holds that people can wind up with millions in the bank by cutting back on everyday expenses like a daily latte. Among other reasons, this line of thinking is questionable because people don’t necessarily invest money that they don’t spend on some product or service—they’re more likely to simply spend that money on something else.

WalletHub also includes other costs that many smokers never think about, factoring in added health care expenses (with state-by-state data from the CDC) and an 8% hit on income due to smoking, as determined in a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Add up all of these and a few other estimated expenses, and over the course of a half-century, the cost to the pack-a-day smoker runs $1 million to $2 million, according to WalletHub. Are the figures overblown? Well, perhaps a bit. There’s a good argument to be made that the data were construed to come up with totals that are as big and headline-worthy as possible. (After all, they got our attention.)

Nonetheless, even if the figures are on the inflated side, it’s an undeniable reality that the smoking habit costs big bucks over a lifetime. And oh yeah, it can make your lifetime a lot shorter. Let’s not forget that.

TIME fashion

Benedict Cumberbatch Inspires a Fashion Line Called ‘Cumberbitch’

He's all over you

For $80, obsessed Sherlock fans can wear Academy Award-nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s likeness on their legs.

L.A. fashion brand Poprageous, which specializes in pop culture-oriented apparel, has launched a ‘Cumberbitch’ collection ranging from crop tops to leggings, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Prints of Cumberbatch’s face are tiled on the fabric ad infinitum, leaving the British actor within repeating gaze for all his ardent fans.

Go ahead and slip on a slinky pair of Cumberbreeches.

[THR]

MONEY online shopping

The Old-School Way J.C. Penney Is Taking Aim at Amazon

Customers shop at the J.C. Penney Co. store inside the Glendale Galleria shopping center in Glendale, California.
Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg via Getty Images Customers shop at the J.C. Penney Co. store inside the Glendale Galleria shopping center in Glendale, California.

Thanks to smartphones and screens available at every turn, it's easier than ever for shoppers to browse in one place and buy in another. And now the old-fashioned mail catalog is making a comeback.

For years, retailers have been trying to figure out how to best cope with the “omniconsumer.” Regardless of whether you’ve heard of the term or not, you probably are one. The term refers to shoppers who use all possible channels—online, in store, and sometimes even via catalog phone order—for the purposes of browsing, researching, and buying.

Several years ago, the biggest threat to the retail world arose from the trend of “showrooming,” or the act of browsing products in stores before ultimately purchasing them online for a lower price, typically at Amazon. The phenomenon led many retailers to expand price-matching policies to better compete with Amazon; the fact that Amazon is no longer assumed to always have the cheapest prices has hurt sales at the world’s largest e-retailer as well. The more recent flipside to showrooming has been “webrooming,” which entails browsing products online (often at Amazon) before ultimately purchasing them in a store.

A Boston Globe story published during the 2014 holiday shopping season offered a glimpse of the prototypical webroomer:

“I usually go online to check prices and narrow down what I want to get,” said Kameko Lindsay, a 21-year-old nursing student at Northeastern University. “Then I go to the store and see what I can find. For me, I’d rather touch things before I buy.”

Obviously, this kind of behavior causes havoc for Amazon and other pure online players. A recent Motley Fool post explored how webrooming and other trends—including the option to purchase online and pick up in a store—have been hurting Amazon. It’s still by far the world’s largest e-retailer, but it has slowly been losing market share, with online sales growth at Home Depot, Costco, Walmart, and others outpacing Amazon. And webrooming appears to be getting more common. A survey from Accenture finds that 78% of consumers have engaged in webrooming, versus 72% who say they’ve showroomed. In a similar poll from 2013, 65% of shoppers said they’d be likely to webroom, versus 62% who said they would showroom.

That’s only one example of how tech is tweaking shopper behavior and altering the retail landscape accordingly. Another, arguably more surprising example comes from an old-fashioned retailer—J.C. Penney— bringing back an equally old-fashioned sales platform: the print catalog. As the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend, in March J.C. Penney will start mailing out 120-page glossy catalogs to customers, even though the struggling retailer hasn’t sent one out since 2010, and catalog mailings in general have fallen dramatically.

What’s spurring J.C. Penney’s renewed interest in catalogs is that, curiously, they seem to boost online sales. Kurt Salmon, the retail consultancy firm, notes that 31% of consumers have a print catalog handy at the time they’re making online purchases. What’s more, there’s some indication that people who purchase with the aid of catalogs tend to spend more.

MONEY Shopping

Customers Desert 3 Big-Name Retailers

Some very high-profile retailers were either part of this week’s bankruptcy news or having to admit some very expensive mistakes.

MONEY Debt

7 Ways to Free Yourself From Debt—for Good!—in 2015

How to pay off debt
PM Images—Getty Images

These smart and easy strategies can get you back in the black before you know it.

If you’re in debt, getting out may seem impossible.

One in eight Americans don’t think they’ll ever pay off what they owe, according to a survey by CreditCards.com.

But it’s a new year and a new balance sheet. And the seven steps here can help you put hundreds more towards your bills every month—while still living the kind of life you want.

Can you taste the freedom?

1) Know What You Owe

It may sound easy, but this can be the hardest part, says Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation of Credit Counseling. “A disturbing number of people come to our offices with grocery bags filled with bills,” she adds.

After you’ve tallied up your total debt, make a “cash-flow calendar” to track how much money is going in and out of your accounts, and when, Cunningham says. When do you get your paycheck, and how much do you get net taxes and benefits? When is each bill due every month, and what is the typical cost? How much do you spend on each of your other expenses, and when?

The more you want to procrastinate on this step, the more you need to do it.

“People resist doing this,” Cunningham says. “I think that’s because they’re afraid of what they’ll find. There’s nothing like seeing your spending staring back at you. That could force a behavioral change.”

2) Follow the 10×10 Rule

If you want to create a debt-repayment plan you can follow, you need to set reasonable and sustainable goals. Curb rather than cut your spending, advises Kevin R. Weeks, president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies.

“Just like a New Year’s resolution to get in shape, it’s very difficult to go cold turkey and say, ‘I’m going to do all this, this week, or today,'” Weeks says. “People bite off more than they can chew, with good intentions.”

Start slowly by following Cunningham’s 10×10 rule: “If you could shave $10 off 10 disposable spending accounts, you’d never miss it, never feel it, never feel deprived—and you’d have another $100 in your pocket,” she says. “Little money adds up to big money.”

3) Spend Cash

Researchers have found that when people shop with credit cards and gift certificates, they are more likely to make impulse purchases on luxury items because they feel like they’re using “play” money. If that sounds like you, cut up the plastic.

And force yourself to feel the pain associated with spending real money by going on a cash-only diet.

“People who live on a cash basis typically save 20% over their previous spending, without feeling deprived,” Cunningham says. “It’s because using cash creates a heightened sense of awareness. You are more contemplative, and you realize you’re going to have to pay for things with hard-earned cash. Something clicks in that allows you to feel better about not buying the item.”

4) Tackle Christmas First

There are two possible ways you can go when it comes to prioritizing your debts: You can pay off your highest interest-rate balance first to cut your financing charges the most or you can pay off a small debt first to build confidence and momentum.

To decide which path is best, you need to know what drives you, Weeks says.

Whichever way you choose to go, Cunningham recommends beginning with a goal of paying off all your holiday spending debt by the end of the first quarter of 2015.

“That will keep you from dragging that debt along with you all the way through 2015,” Cunningham says. “You’ll be back to where you were debt-wise before the holidays.”

No matter what, expect a series of small steps. “It’s going to take time,” Weeks says. “If you’re looking to lose 50 pounds, you should focus on losing the first five and then you move yourself forward. It’s the same thing on the financial side.”

5) Reduce Your Rates

Don’t do all the work yourself. Get your lender to cut your interest rates.

One way to do that is a balance transfer. Many credit cards offer promotions of 0% interest for a year or more if you transfer your debt from an old card and pay a small fee.

You can save $265.48 on a $5,000 debt with a typical balance transfer, according to a new report from Creditcards.com. That’s assuming a 3% balance transfer fee, a 12-month 0% intro APR, and the debt being paid off within the year.

You could do even better than that if you used Money’s pick for a balance transfer card, the Chase Slate, which currently offers a 0% APR for 15 months, no balance transfer fee in the first 60 days, and standard APR of 12.99% to 22.99% after the promotional period.

If you won’t be able to pay off your debt in the promotional period, however, this might not be the best option. You don’t want to move your debt only to possibly get stuck with a higher APR than the one you already have. A better choice: Move your debt to the Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa, which has no balance transfer fee and an ongoing APR starting at an ultra-low 6%.

Or, simply call your issuer and request that your APR be reduced. In another report, CreditCards.com found that two-thirds of people who asked for a lower rate got it.

6) Stop lending so much money to the IRS

The average household got a $3,034 tax refund last year. In other words, every month, an extra $253 was taken out of your paycheck and loaned to the IRS interest free!

Sure, you’ll get it back after you file your taxes, but don’t you need it now?

“I don’t want anybody to receive an income tax refund—that $250 a month can make a major, life-changing difference,” Cunningham says.

Rather than paying interest on your debt every month while the government gets your money, you should be funneling that cash toward your balance. On a $5,000 debt at 16%, adding $250 a month to a payment of $200 a month, you’d save $675 in interest and get your debt paid off in just over a year vs. two and a half.

You can put your money back in your pocket by adjusting your withholding on a W-4 tax form.

Of course, you don’t want to owe money at tax time, so use the government’s withholding calculator to figure out exactly how many allowances you should take. File your new W-4 with your human resources department and give yourself a raise.

7) Ask for help

If you can’t stop taking on debt or are really unable to make payments on what you owe, you may need professional help. Credit counseling can be especially useful if you’re struggling with student loan debt or medical debt, not just credit card debt.

Find a nonprofit credit counselor through the National Foundation of Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. Financial counseling should be free, though agencies can charge an enrollment fee for a debt management plan, which will consolidate your debt into one payment with a more reasonable interest rate, Weeks says.

If you don’t need professional help, but you need someone to keep you honest, ask a friend to be your accountability partner, Cunningham suggests. Share your debt repayment plan and check in periodically about how you’re doing. Leverage the positive power of peer pressure.

“People don’t want to let somebody down,” Cunningham says. “They don’t want to have to admit that they weren’t as committed to their plan long-term.”

More on paying off debt:

More on resolutions:

MONEY Scams

The Surprising Truth About the Latest Text Spam Attack

woman text messaging
Getty Images

Handbag pirates will actually send you the (knockoff) products you order... but it's unclear what they do with your personal data.

A text-message spam campaign that flooded mobile phones and irritated perhaps millions of iPhone users last summer reared its ugly head again towards the end of 2014. The messages offer recipients a cheap way to order designer products like handbags and sunglasses. In a curious twist, one researcher says those who “fall” for the spam appear to get what they order. But it’s still a scam — the bags are fakes, of course, sent directly from China. And who knows what really happens to the personal information you give the spammers.

At one point last summer, this one “product promotion spam” campaign, which specifically targeted Apple’s iMessage users, made up as much as 40% of all unwanted text messages received by U.S. users, says spam-fighting firm Cloudmark.

By September, the campaign had all but disappeared. But from September to December — perhaps in time for the holidays? — it reappeared. Preliminary research shows a four-fold increase during that stretch, Cloudmark says. The new version of the scam adds knock-off Ugg boots, perhaps just in time for winter.

Last year, Cloudmark researcher Tom Landesman “fell” for the spam’s offer. He visited the fake Michael Kors site hawked by the spam, and ordered a bag using a limited value credit card. It’s easy to imagine the spammers’ goal was identity theft, and that the card and other information would immediately be used for fraud. Instead, he actually received a fake, shipped from China, made of poor imitation leather and cheap clasps. Buttons were inscribed with Chinese instead of English.

The Internet Protocol address of the knock-off websites advertised in the spam suggest they are in China, Landesman said. Packages are shipped from locations in and around Suzhou, China, not far from Shanghai.

So far, at least, there are no signs the spammers are interested in identity fraud. They’re just selling fakes.

“I suppose they see it as advertising…China has a lot of unique advertising ideas,” Landesman said. “China doesn’t have the same legislative disincentives (for spammers).”

While recipients do seemingly get something for their money, they are still getting cheated, Landesman says — they don’t get what they think they are paying for. He breaks spam into three categories: Simple spam, which is just noise; scams, with false advertising; and malicious texts, such as bank phishing messages seeking banking credentials.

spam attack types

“This is kind of middle-of-the-road. Arguably you can go to a flea market and buy something similar,” he said. “Still, you should absolutely ignore these messages.”

Text message spam is not the nuisance that email spam can be — in many parts of the world, three out of four emails are spam — but text spam is certainly on the rise. Given the widespread adoption of smartphones, it’s much easier for a text spammer to get a recipient to follow the complicated chain of events required to monetize a victim, such as directing recipients to a website to enter personal information.

Other technological circumstances can make things even easier for spammers. The knock-off campaign Cloudmark examined specifically targeted Apple’s iMessage users. iMessage makes it easy for users to follow text chats from phone to tablet to desktop, but because users link their email addresses and mobile phone numbers, spammers have an easier time finding targets. The messages run through Apple’s servers, rather than through mobile carriers’ text message systems, which can save users money, but that also shifts the burden of spam filtering to Apple. And iMessage users by default send a return receipt, which is gold to a spammer, Landesman said — it reveals to spammers they have a “live” phone number to attack, or sell to other spammers.

Any mobile text users can protect themselves chiefly by ignoring the spam. If you choose, you can forward the message to 7726 (which spells SPAM on old telephone keypads), where an industry group will help block future messages from the same sender, or with the same content.

iMessage users can take the additional step of turning off return receipt notification, or block notification of messages from users who aren’t in their contact list.

Image courtesy Cloudmark

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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