Morrisey: False texts offering free gift cards and other prizes may end up costing consumers on their cell phone bill.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey today urged West Virginia consumers to think twice before responding to unsolicited text messages that offer gifts or prizes to people.

The Federal Trade Commission recently settled with a marketer who sent millions of unsolicited text messages to consumers telling them they had won electronics or other prizes such as $1,000 gift cards to major national retailers. The messages typically read, “You have been selected for a $1,000 gift card. Enter code ‘FREE’ at [web site address] to claim your prize. 150 left!!”

However, consumers who clicked on those links didn’t end up with the “free” prizes; instead, they ended up signing up for multiple trial offers to “qualify” for the “free” prizes. In some cases, consumers also were billed for monthly recurring charges.

“Much like we saw recently with the ‘One-Ring Scam,’ some scammers have figured out that mobile phones are one of the easiest ways to get directly to a consumer,” Morrisey said. “Unfortunately, for these consumers, clicking those links might add up hundreds of dollars in charges on their bills, which is just wrong.”

Scammers appear to be targeting numbers at random, and are typically able to reach millions of customers with computer programs that send bulk messages using a few simple keystrokes. Additionally, there are reports of the retailer in the gift card message changing frequently.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you receive an unsolicited text message:

Delete it immediately, especially if the message asks you to reply with a code or with personal information. A legitimate company will never send you a text message or an e-mail to ask you for your credit card numbers, bank account information, or Social Security number.

Don’t be tempted to click on any links in the text message. These links can take you to spoof sites that can look authentic, but are designed to steal your personal information.

Review your cell phone bill for any suspicious, unauthorized charges and immediately report them to your carrier.

“The sad thing is there are some bad apples out there looking to take advantage of technology and a well-known company’s reputation in order to scam hard-working consumers out of their money,” Morrisey said. “In the case of an unexpected message telling you that you just won a prize, it’s wise to remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably it is.”

Some mobile carriers provide a service for subscribers to report offending messages. If you are an AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile customer, you can copy the original message and forward it to the number 7726 (SPAM) free of charge.

If you believe you have been the victim of one of these scams, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Office at 1-800-368-8808.