How to halt cell phone spam via text and email: Internet Scambusters #448
A tide of cell phone spam threatens to swamp our mobile world.
By email and text messages the spammers find their way onto
our wireless devices — and sometimes we have to pay for the
But if you know the law and the way the spammers work, you
can stop most of their tricks, as we explain in this week’s
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On to today’s main topic…
Mobile World Sparks Cell Phone Spam Onslaught
With more than half the world’s population now using mobile
communication devices, cell phone spam is on the rise —
despite government clampdown efforts.
Mobile phone spam, also known as m-spam, can arrive in two
forms — either as an email or as a text or SMS message (which
some clever person labeled spaSMS).
In most cases it’s illegal, but what’s really infuriating is
that unless you have an unlimited text plan with your cell
phone service provider, you end up actually paying for this
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to
significantly reduce or stop cell phone spam, as we’ll
But first let’s take a brief look at the scale of the problem
and what the law says a person can or can’t do when it comes
to sending messages, whether text or email, to wireless
A hint of how many cell phone spam text messages are out
there can be gleaned from recent action by the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC), who, in February 2011, asked a court to shut
down a company that was allegedly sending out an average of 85
cell phone spam text messages a minute — 5.5 million in 40
Worse, the financial services being offered purportedly didn’t
exist and the person who sent them out allegedly then sold the
details of anyone who replied as leads to other financial
That’s the mass-market end of the problem. At the individual
level, consumer campaigner David Morris reported in the
Charlotte Sun Herald newspaper recently on how one of his
readers had been alarmed to be alerted to an incoming message
on her cell phone in the early hours of the morning.
But, presumably with her heart pounding, when she checked, it
turned out to be just a piece of cell phone spam.
Morris reports that research from the Pew Center shows that 72
percent of users now receive cell phone text.
It’s fair to assume that most of them receive cell phone spam
at some time or another since another survey, by anti-virus
group AVG and consultants The Ponemon Institute, says that two
thirds of all cell phone users now say they are worried about
receiving marketing ads.
What The Law Says About Cell Phone Spam
Like all electronic junk mail, cell phone spam was targeted
by the CAN-SPAM Act of 2005, which required marketers to seek
“express prior authorization” before sending out email
But in those days, most cell phone spam arrived by email
rather than text messages, which were in their infancy then.
Today, according to Morris, we send and receive around 5
billion text messages every day, though there are no figures
on how many of those are spam.
However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which
was empowered under CAN-SPAM to police the spamming of
wireless devices, has acted to block the flow.
Under FCC rules, the same “express prior authorization”
applies to emails on cell phones, and you can’t send a
commercial text message to anyone whose number is listed on
the Do Not Call (DNC) Registry.
Even if a person is not DNC-listed, you can’t send a text
message to anyone via an automated system.
There are exceptions to all of this. For instance, anyone with
whom a company has “a prior business relationship” can still
send you emails and text messages; so can charities and
For more information on the FCC Rules, check out this Guide, Spam: Unwanted Text Messages and Email.
Of course, all of this does nothing to stop the crooks that
work outside the law and continue to send out their cell phone
spam regardless. So what can you do?
7 Things You Can Do to Halt Cell Phone Spam
Nothing is going to be 100 percent effective but you can do a
number of things which will severely restrict the chance of
cell phone spam getting through to you, either via emails or
text message (and, of course, telemarketing calls). Here are
10 of them:
Get your cell phone (and landline) number on the Do Not Call Registry.
We also wrote about the DNC Registry in a recent report on
telemarketing harassment, How to Put a Stop to Telemarketing Harassment.
Block text messages that originate on the Internet, rather
than someone else’s phone.
Most cell phone spam comes this way because it doesn’t cost
the spammer anything to send.
Your cell phone service provider will tell you how to do this
and even how to set up exceptions that allow certain Internet
messages to get through to your phone.
Contact your cell phone service provider and ask them to
block specific numbers or Internet addresses where you believe
your cell phone spam is coming from.
Use a spam filter for incoming email. Set these up either
directly on your cell phone or, if you use an online email
provider, via their website.
Alternatively get your mobile email by syncing with your
desktop computer, which presumably does have a spam filter
We’re not aware of any service that is capable of
automatically filtering text messages, though, no doubt,
that’ll happen one day.
Beware of tactics that trick you into giving permission to
cell phone spam artists.
This could be a clause in the small print of a service or
program you sign up for — even on your PC if you’re also
asked to give your cell phone number.
Another sneaky trick uses free or cheap downloads — ringtones
are a prime example.
Once you download, you’ve established a “prior business
relationship” that allows the provider to legally send cell
phone spam text messages.
Never, never, never (is that enough?) respond to cell phone
spam. If you do, you’ll likely get an avalanche of the stuff
and your details will be passed on to other spammers.
Seek further support and guidance from your phone provider.
They’re as aware of this problem as anyone. According to David
Morris, in his Sun Herald article, Verizon has launched at
least 20 lawsuits against alleged wireless spammers and
Above all, it’s important to take prompt action against any
cell phone spam you receive, especially text messages you have
to pay for.
You should ask your service provider to waive any such
You can also report cell phone spam by filing a complaint with the FCC.
As with all junk mail, cell phone spam is unlikely to
disappear anytime soon but you can escape most of it — and
maybe have fewer night-time scares — by following our tips.
Time to close — we’re off to take a walk. See you next week.