home icon
Route 360 Logo

From our sponsors :

How to Reduce Spam Texts on Your Cell Phone

Your smart phone probably receives more spam texts these days, and that could be costly, but there are ways to trim them back

posted by Caroline Mayer, May 2, 2012 More by this author

man texting from cell phone

Caroline Mayer is a consumer reporter who spent 25 years working for The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter @consumermayer


man texting from cell phone
Jupiterimages | Comstock | Thinkstock
In fact, if you have a smart phone, chances are you received at least two spam text messages in the last month, says Richi Jennings, an independent industry analyst. Jennings says U.S. consumers were deluged with about 4.5 billion spam text messages in 2011, up from 3.1 billion in 2010 and just 500 million in 2005.
 
Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) banned one spammer from sending unsolicited texts after discovering that, in the course of 40 days, the company had pushed out more than 5.5 million texts suggesting it was affiliated with a government agency that could help modify mortgages or provide debt relief. As the FTC noted, that’s “a mind boggling rate of about 85 per minute every minute of every day.”
 
How Spam Texts Can Cost You
 
Spam text messages are not only annoying, they can be expensive for you, too.
 
If you have a cell phone billing plan that charges for each text message you send or receive — typically about 20 cents per text — you’re on the hook when spam shows up on your phone.
 
A pay-per-text plan might seem less expensive than an unlimited texting plan if you don’t text very much, since unlimited plans often cost $5 to $10 extra. But if you’re inundated with spam text messages, your per-text plan can suddenly stop being a bargain.
 
Text spams have become so prevalent there’s even a new term for it: smishing. The practice is similar to phishing, which is spamming done via email.
 
But as law enforcement officials cracked down on phishing and consumers stopped responding to email spam, con artists began turning to cell phones.
 
Spam Texts and Financial Fraud
 
What worries Cloudmark, an antispam security firm, is that more than 90 percent of today’s text spams are for financial frauds. “This is different than email spam,” which is mostly for drugs (think Viagra) and porn, says Jacinta Tobin, Cloudmark’s chief marketing officer.
 
Spam texts can be deceptive, often appearing to be legitimate businesses offering online surveys for a chance to win an iPad or gift card. And the surveys may seem innocuous, says Rachel Kinoshita, Cloudmark’s head of security operations. But if you reply, your cell will be targeted by future texts pitching products based on your answers.
 
And that “free gift card” for completing the survey? Well, it may be neither free nor a gift card.
 
“They’ll tell you it’s 'free' — all you need to do is pay $8.90 for postage with your credit card now,” says Kinoshita. “Of course, you don’t get the gift card; at best you get some coupons for products that you more than likely don’t use.” And now the spammers have your credit card information.
 
How to Reduce Spam Texts
 
All the wireless carriers — not to mention the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — say they are aggressively pursuing ways to curb smishing. But that’s a challenge given the agility with which spammers switch tactics.
    
Below are five dos and don’ts you should follow to reduce the number of spam texts on your cell phone. The results may not be immediate, but with luck you should see fewer unwanted texts over the long term.
 
DO report smishing to your cell phone carrier as soon as you get a spam text. Simply forward the text message to 7726 (which is SPAM if you spell it out on the telephone key pad). Your carrier should text you back immediately confirming your message and asking for the sender’s number so its messages can be blocked. Respond to that, and don’t worry about being charged if you’re on a per-text plan. These messages should be free.
 
DO file a complaint with federal agencies that investigate spam texts. Those are the FTC and the FCC.
 
DO consider extra protection against spam text messages. Call your cell phone carrier or go to its website to find how the company can block unwanted messages from your phone. Some carriers can block texts from specific numbers or email addresses; some can block all messages sent by a particular computer.
 
DON’T ever respond to an unsolicited, unwanted text. That means don’t even respond by texting “stop.” A response confirms that the spammer has reached a working phone number, and this could lead to your receiving even more unwanted texts, since your number will probably be sold to other spammers. Never, ever respond to a text that claims to be from your bank and says your account has been “disabled” because of a problem. Instead, call the bank (using its real contact number found on its website, not one found in a text) or stop by a nearby branch to see if there truly is a problem. Odds are, there isn’t.
 
DON’T give out your cell phone number to people or companies you don’t know. Be especially careful about entering an online sweepstakes that requires you to supply your cell phone number. According to the fine print, you may actually be signing up for a costly text-message service that provides, say, a joke a day or daily weather reports. Unlike my two 20-something daughters, I am not much of a texter. So I’m always surprised to find a text message on my cell phone.
 
Lately, I’ve been getting surprised a lot, as I receive a steady stream of texts from people or companies I don’t know. They don’t know me either — but it’s clear that they’d like to. Most of all, they’d like to learn my credit card and bank account numbers.
 
Welcome to the annoying world of spam text messages. In a moment, I’ll show you how to reduce the number of spam text messages you receive. But first let's take a look at this phenomenon.
 
Spammers Turn to Text Messaging
 
Here are two texts I recently found on my cell phone:
 
“It’s True! We are giving away iPad2’s to the first 1000 mobile users that go to [a Website], enter code 8172 to qualify.”
 
“A MUST READ. This is regarding a late relative’s estate. Pls Email [an Internet address] for details.”
 
You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to know that both of these are spam. For years, spammers have used the Internet to lure customers into divulging personal financial information and sending money for phony goods and services. Now these pests are turning to text messaging with a vengeance.
 
In fact, if you have a smart phone, chances are you received at least two spam text messages in the last month, says Richi Jennings, an independent industry analyst. Jennings says U.S. consumers were deluged with about 4.5 billion spam text messages in 2011, up from 3.1 billion in 2010 and just 500 million in 2005.
 
Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) banned one spammer from sending unsolicited texts after discovering that, in the course of 40 days, the company had pushed out more than 5.5 million texts suggesting it was affiliated with a government agency that could help modify mortgages or provide debt relief. As the FTC noted, that’s “a mind boggling rate of about 85 per minute every minute of every day.”
 
How Spam Texts Can Cost You
 
Spam text messages are not only annoying, they can be expensive for you, too.
 
If you have a cell phone billing plan that charges for each text message you send or receive — typically about 20 cents per text — you’re on the hook when spam shows up on your phone.
 
A pay-per-text plan might seem less expensive than an unlimited texting plan if you don’t text very much, since unlimited plans often cost $5 to $10 extra. But if you’re inundated with spam text messages, your per-text plan can suddenly stop being a bargain.
 
Text spams have become so prevalent there’s even a new term for it: smishing. The practice is similar to phishing, which is done via email.
But as law enforcement officials cracked down on phishing and consumers stopped responding to email spam, con artists began turning to cell phones.
 
Spam Texts and Financial Fraud
 
What worries Cloudmark, an antispam security firm, is that more than 90 percent of today’s text spams are for financial frauds. “This is different than email spam,” which is mostly for drugs (think Viagra) and porn, says Jacinta Tobin, Cloudmark’s chief marketing officer.
 
Spam texts can be deceptive, often appearing to be legitimate businesses offering online surveys for a chance to win an iPad or gift card. And the surveys may seem innocuous, says Rachel Kinoshita, Cloudmark’s head of security operations. But if you reply, your cell will be targeted by future texts pitching products based on your answers.
 
And that “free gift card” for completing the survey? Well, it may be neither nor a gift card.
 
“They’ll tell you it’s 'free' — all you need to do is pay $8.90 for postage with your credit card now,” says Kinoshita. “Of course, you don’t get the gift card; at best you get some coupons for products that you more than likely don’t use.” And now the spammers have your credit card information.
 
How to Reduce Spam Texts
 
All the wireless carriers — not to mention the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — say they are aggressively pursuing ways to curb smishing. But that’s a challenge given the agility with which spammers switch tactics.
    
Below are five dos and don’ts you should follow to reduce the number of spam texts on your cell phone. The results may not be immediate, but with luck you should see fewer unwanted texts over the long term.
 
DO report smishing to your cell phone carrier as soon as you get a spam text. Simply forward the text message to 7726 (which is SPAM if you spell it out on the telephone key pad). Your carrier should text you back immediately confirming your message and asking for the sender’s number so its messages can be blocked. Respond to that, and don’t worry about being charged if you’re on a per-text plan. These messages should be free.
 
DO file a complaint with federal agencies that investigate spam texts. Those are the FTC and the FCC.
 
DO consider extra protection against spam text messages. Call your cell phone carrier or go to its website to find how the company can block unwanted messages from your phone. Some carriers can block texts from specific numbers or email addresses; some can block all messages sent by a particular computer.
 
DON’T ever respond to an unsolicited, unwanted text. That means don’t even respond by saying “stop.” A response confirms that the spammer has reached a working phone number, and this could lead to your receiving even more unwanted texts, since your number will probably be sold to other spammers. Never, ever respond to a text that claims to be from your bank and says your account has been “disabled” because of a problem. Instead, call the bank (using its real contact number, not one found in a text) to see if there truly is a problem. Odds are, there isn’t.
 
DON’T give out your cell phone number to people or companies you don’t know. Be especially careful about entering an online sweepstakes that requires you to supply your cell phone number. According to the fine print, you may actually be signing up for a costly text-message service that provides, say, a joke a day or daily weather reports.