“Someone complimented you!” Mysterious messages decoded

Joshua Schuetz
Staff Writer

Mysterious messages from an unknown number, on phones and social media accounts. Compliments from unknown people. A link to an app store. 

That’s the experience of many people throughout the country who have found themselves bewildered and more often than not, a little scared by these unsolicited messages. 

Social media has not helped in this regard. On Twitter, a user asserted that the app is a trick used by a sex trafficking ring, that women who clicked on the link were “disappearing” and that the text could somehow put a tracker on a user’s phone.

While the texts can certainly be scary, there’s no need to worry, according to Snopes, a fact checking website. 

The true story behind the messages is a bit more mundane. It’s part of a marketing and recruitment tactic by a new app called “IRL.” IRL’s website describes it as a tool that people can use to invite each other to hang out in real life.

A new app on the market, IRL is trying to get more users and one way they do that is by sending unsolicited messages to potential users.

From all accounts, this strategy has backfired spectacularly. The twitter post associating the texts with a sex trafficking ring has been retweeted over 50,000 times as of this month.

That’s certainly not the best marketing strategy, particularly in an era when abductions and disappearances are a common fear among parents and young people and young women in particular. 

A spokesperson from IRL spoke to the Snopes and said that the app does not track users or steal information either. 

But that doesn’t mean that the app should be interacted with without caution, according to CBS Albany 6, which did a report on the messages.

If you do sign up for an account, the app will collect your email address, name, location, contacts, IP address and phone number. Pam Dixon, who serves as executive director for the World Privacy Forum, called the marketing tactics “somewhat predatory”, and criticized the app’s privacy policy. 

But there’s no reason to be afraid if you get one of these messages. If you don’t want to download the app, just delete the message, or text “no” or “stop” in response.

If you receive unsolicited texts with links, the best policy is to delete them and not click on any of the links that they send. Although IRL’s texts are harmless, some other texts aren’t, and may contain malware, which could steal or compromise your data.

All in all? The best thing to do is not to click on anything sent by suspicious or unknown phone numbers and email addresses.

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr.

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