Consumers in Maryland should watch out for text messages alerting recipients that they've won a high-priced gift card to a store.

The messages are part of a widespread "smishing" scam, a combination of "SMS," or Short Message Service, and "phishing," the act of fraudulently acquiring information through e-mail, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said today.

"Scams like these tend to pop up around the holidays when consumers are shopping more and looking for bargains," Gansler said in a statement. "But you should never give away personal information in order to redeem a prize. Simply delete any message from someone you do not know and remember the old saying, 'if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.'"

The text message scam, which has cropped up around the country, tells recipients they have won a gift card to a well-known store, typically for $500 or $1,000. It sends the recipient to a website to enter a code. The site uses the store's name in the web address as well as store logo and colors, but it asks for personal information such as birthday, email address, credit card account, bank account or other information that could lead to identity theft.

In another variation, consumers are asked to reply to the text with personal information.

The texts, which come from different numbers, could be sent to tens of thousands of mobile phone users. Consumers should report any such incidents to their cell phone service provider.

Gansler's warning also suggests that users only visit websites with "https" in the URL, register all phone numbers with the federal Do Not Call List and consider downloading a spam blocker phone application.

Consumers who believe they've been contacted with the texting scam or other suspicious schemes can file a complaint with the state's Consumer Protection Division or contact the consumer hotline at 410-528-8662 or 1-888-743-0023. Those who might have been victims of identity theft should call the Identity Theft Unit at 410-576-6491.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com