Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Spam text messages

I got a spam text message today. This is rather unusual--the last one I received was at least before I got my Palm, so more than six months ago. At that time, I was still paying per text, and Cingular would refund me the $.10 for the initial message and $.10 to respond with "STOP" or "QUIT" (which legally require the sender to cease and desist...although since they're breaking the law sending you a message in the first place, the helpfulness of this is dubious. As with spam emails, it lets them know you're a "live one"). It doesn't matter quite so much to me now as I pay for a text messaging plan that can cover this, but as a principle, I do try to report spam (ebay, paypal and bank spam emails in particular). This for some reason feels even more invasive than email spam...this is my phone number!

Unsolicited text messages violate the FCC's CAN-SPAM act and mainly just gets on my nerves. The reason spam text messages are on the rise is that the spammers are not being investigated and punished, probably in large part because the carriers aren't being pushed to do something about it by their customers. As yet, carriers do not allow you to block certain senders while letting others get through--it's either all or nothing. I've heard rumors that T-Mobile at least will allow you to block all messages originating from an email address while allowing those sent from a wireless number, but I've not been able to verify that.

Don't just put up with it! If you receive a spam text message, these are the steps you should take:

  • Respond to the message with STOP, END, or QUIT (or all three, as I usually do).
  • Complain to the FCC (note that the link to their complaint form is incorrect--you'll need to copy and paste. Even then, their checkboxes do not include an option for text message, only voice calls or faxes). I emailed them following the instructions on the main link.
  • Follow up with your cell phone carrier, in order to both file a complaint against the originating phone number and recoup your costs, if any, for the initial message and your response message.

  • Carrier specifics are as follows:

  • Cingular/AT&T doesn't seem to know what their policy is. I used their live online tech support and was told to call Customer Care at 800-331-0500 and ask them to create an IT Self Service Case. The customer service rep I spoke with tried to direct me to a page on wireless.att.com/textmessaging which is exactly what I'm looking for--a place for customers to file official complaints with AT&T regarding one-time or repeat spam text messages and block phone numbers and email addresses. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the rebranding (he said) no one can find that page any more but they're going to keep looking and get back to me.

  • Verizon offers refunds for spam text messages. All text message complaints must be submitted through their customer care number, (800) 922-0204 or *611 from your Verizon wireless phone. Given Verizon's recent problems with deciding whether or not to block text messages, good luck with that.

  • T-Mobile, as mentioned above, will allow you to block text messages originating from email addresses sent to your mobile number, while letting through all text messages sent from another mobile number, but this seems dependent on the type of phone you have as well. You can set up this preference on their website. They offer refunds for spam text messages. Call them at 1-800-937-8997 or 611 on your T-Mobile phone.

  • Sprint doesn't have a lot of information on the web that I could find (through a quick Google search) regarding reporting text message spam. Their customer service number is 800-SPRINT1 or *2 from your Sprint phone.

  • Good luck fighting spammers!

    1/31/08 update: Hey, all you T-Mobile customers--check this out!

    6/18/08 update: The New York Times (via Consumerist) has recommendations on how to prevent spam text messages--listed by provider! This is a great resource.

    27 comments:

    1. good article. although neither are 100% complete, I suggest looking at both shortcode directories at www.usshortcodes.com and www.usshortcodeswhois.com if you are trying to find out who a short code belongs to and what it's supposed to do.

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    2. "I've heard rumors that T-Mobile at least will allow you to block all messages originating from an email address while allowing those sent from a wireless number, but I've not been able to verify that."

      I have been able to block all texts sent from email addresses on my t-mobile cell. I am still getting unwanted texts from someone who has the wrong number. I have informed them that I don't know them and I have asked them to stop but the continue to text me.... I cannot block texts from certain numbers I and should be able to!

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    3. Thanks for your comments!

      usshortcodeswhois.com, I should have clarified that the spam message I received the other day originated from an email address, not a short code (so is not a true SMS in all senses of the word) but I am thrilled to learn of directories for short codes, even if they're incomplete. A few years ago I worked for a company who provided text messaging solutions for radio stations, and I desperately needed something like this. Thanks for the tip!

      talina, I completely agree with you. SMS messages originate from a five-digit short code, so why wouldn't users be able to block that number from contacting their device the same way they can block a phone number from contacting them? Hopefully with consumer demand, cell phone companies will give us the option.

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    4. Tmobile is a scam you can not have a plan that does not include texting in some shape or form but they dont tell you when you get a plan that there will be additional charges

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    5. I received some spam text messages. They came from 3700, 3701, 3702. TMobile folk told me these were numbers for third party companies, subscription services that you have to subscribe to. I have never subscribed to any such thing. The only thing they could tell me to do was text a reply of STOP back to the sender. I'm not thrilled by this. What I''m even more unthrilled about is that TMobile doesn't offer a plan without text messaging services at all. That's what I mentioned to them during my two calls to them today about text message spam. Grr.

      By the way, messages coming from the 3700 series are not in the short codes databases - they're only four digits.

      I wouldn't be surprised if TMobile and text spammers don't have some kind of a business arrangement.

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    6. Anonymous, I don't think you're too far off. I know for a fact that with legitimate text messaging services/subscriptions, the carriers do indeed receive part of that $0.99 charge or $5.99 monthly fee. So if you're paying anything for these unwanted texts, fight T-Mobile and cost them a little bit of money! Maybe then they'll realize that ultimately they're going to lose the customers they offend with these practices.

      I am starting to see short codes ranging from four to six digits, with five being the most common. I hope you submit these numbers to one of the short code directories in hopes that it can be flagged as a possible spammer. I don't know of a page similar to WhoIs for figuring out the numbers of possible text spammers, but anyone in the world out there who might want to start one up, it looks like there's demand!

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    7. I called Tmobile twice today regarding spam messages that i recived from 3700, and 3701.... they told me to reply with "STOP" but that this probably wouldnt work, then they told me that this third party was part of yahoo, and they refunded me for the messages but said that it was a one time thing and that basically i was now on my own, that i had to contact yahoo myself and get them to stop.... Tmobile are not very much help.

      They also said that i cant block text messages because thats hwo they get ahold of their customers.... so great, i have to put up with spammers, and paying for spammers, because they dont want to sent out emails or give phone calls.... nice

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    8. As a t-mobile employee and customer I am very frustrated with spam SMS as well. I am a customer care rep. and I take calls all day long regarding this exact issue. I wish that we could just block texting all together, because i know that MANY customers want that service to just be removed.

      At this time, our systems are set up as to not allow us to remove incoming or outgoing text from a number, and I wish they were, because I would do it all the time. Just try to be nice the the individual who you are speaking to if you call customer care, because they aren't the ones who make the rules. And just so you know, I am constantly pushing for us to make this change at work, because I KNOW the customers deserve that option.I mean, look at me, I am reading about text messaging on my free time, obviously I care about my customers!!!!!

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    9. This is crazy. I just learned about this and found this blog after getting nowhere with the T-Mobile reps. Why/how can we be charged for something we did not invite or want! I've been a T-mobile customer for about five years and they wouldn't even credit my account the $0.60 that was charged on my last bill for text messages sent to two lines on my plan.

      I was frustrated to learn that even if I don't open the text messages (which I did not) and delete them immediately (which I did), they still charge me!!!

      Scream loud and hard people because the cell companies know about this and are doing nothing. Why?...because they are making a ton of money by (IMHO) stealing from their own customers. This theft is taking place by their inaction to simply allow customers to block all texts. Sure T-mobile allows you to now block in-coming e-mails (without a White List, and only telling people about it after they get dinged), but they are not allowing you to block texts from phone numbers. One of the unwanted texts I received was from an "876" area code which I learned was from Jamaica (an obvious Spam operation), and I can't even block it. Basically, T-Mobile is forcing me to get punched in the stomach without giving me any way to defend myself.

      I encourage everyone to write their respective States' consumer protection agencies. Contact your local news folks that do stories on consumers being mistreated. I also encourage you to post complaints on YouTube to spread the word. This is sickening!

      I think T-Mobile alone has about 26 million customers. If one spammer sends one spam to all 26 million, T-Mobile just made almost $4 million!!!!! That is sleazy to say the least, and the fact that they are not allowing us to defend ourselves should be illegal.

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    10. I have the same problem. from last month, i starting to get those unwanted text message, they are from 265060,265019, and 3700, 3701,3702...I have no idea how to stop them. I called T-mobile,they told me reply with"stop", and then they number 3700 become 3701,3702...god knows how many number they will have.It really getting my nerves, they sending me message in the 1:47am, 3:47am, 8:47am...sometimes three times a day. T-mobile charge me 0.15 per message and 0.15 as well for reply "stop", I asked them simply remove my message function and they can't. This will getting worse if we don't do anything about it since the carrier can't do anything about it.
      those spammers should be punished!!!!!

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    11. I called T-mobile, got different answers this time. they said the four digit code, you can block them by create filter on the tmobile web, and they sit digit code spammer, you have to reply with "stop". Don't know if it works, I will try now......

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    12. I also received a SPAM message on my T-Mobile number from 3700. I requested that I not be charged for this, and also requested that texting be turned off.

      T-Mobile replied that they cannot turn off texting, since that is how I am notified for voice mail. They also refused to remove the charges (15 cents) for the SPAM.

      This is unacceptable to me. I have so stated in six or seven emails to customer care. Each time they dutifully reply within 24 hours that they cannot remove the charges. And each time I reply that sorry, this is unacceptable. I will continue this chain of emails until the CEO of T-Mobile intervenes and refunds my 15 cents!

      In the meantime, it costs me nothing to complain, and it costs them a lot more than 15 cents to tell me they won't refund the charges. Good thing I am not a shareholder.

      This is an example of scripted customer service gone bad. I have no other complaints about the service, and am not inclined to cancel. But perhaps they will tire of my emails and offer to cancel the service without penalty.

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    13. In keeping with the theme of screaming loud and hard, I called my state's consumer protection division. I was instructed to file a formal complaint to their office. I was also instructed to file a formal complaint with the FCC to get this ball rolling. I encourage anyone experiencing this same theft by their cellphone companies to contact the FCC at:

      888-225-5322

      or

      www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html

      While T-mobile won't allow us to block texting completely, be sure to login to your my-t-mbobile account and enable the blocking features for text e-mails.

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    14. This is for those that are tired of getting stuck with charges that don't belong to them. I noticed my T-Mobile bill going up in price each month, so today, being tired of paying more than what I signed on for, I started to do some research on our bills. Apparently T-Mobile raised the price of our text messaging WITHOUT informing us. We have kept every single piece of paper T-Mobile has sent to us over the last two years...we use one of the phones for business so we had to keep any and all documentation for expense reports and taxes. We never received any "insert". On top of this, for the last year of our service, we have had dropped calls, static on the lines, no service, etc. We have called many times to get the technical problems resolved-even went as far as purchasing new phones (at full cost) for both lines and replacing sim cards-and still-the service is below par. As far as the texting goes-I did my research and then looked at our plan online...I signed in, clicked on "Plans", went to the bottom of the window and clicked on "See Other Included Services", went to the bottom of the next screen and clicked on "More Information About Services", On the next page...First paragraph under the heading "ALL PLANS" If you read the first couple of lines-you will see that T-Mobile themselves say that text messages are only supposed to be 5 cents a text. This is for ALL PLANS-Not just for mine. Yet they are charging everyone more! As far as I am concerned-this is deplorable-and earns them MILLIONS of dollars a month!!!!! A month-not a year or more. Think on it-every one of their customers is paying more than what they say they actually are charging. I called T-mobile and explained that we were very unhappy with the service and now we find out that our Text cost went up. I spoke to a lady and explained what I found on their website and started to ask why they were charging me more than they themselves state the charge is supposed to be. And here I have been paying more for TWO YEARS!!! She said this was a tax, I said no it isn't-read the paragraph. She put me on hold for a few minutes. When she came back, I asked what would they do for me since I have been paying more than required for 2 years. She didn’t know-so I asked for a supervisor. It took a few minutes-but I got one. . She came back and actually thanked me for finding the "typo". She couldn’t believe that no one had found it before. She even confirmed the “typo” with her supervisor and then their business department. When I did get the supervisor, she was very defensive. I wasn’t-I was actually pretty nice. I explain everything again, and I ask her-what was T-Mobile going to do for me since I have been paying over their own rates for the last two years. She states that she has documentation that we received the insert explaining about the Text rate change. She stated that I HAD to have received the insert. I told her I was more than willing to send her every paper I had for the last two years, it isn’t here. Unless I signed it and gave it back (which if I had received it and they had asked me to at the time-I probably would have), she cannot say I received it. I am not a dishonest person-I would take a lie detector test to prove we never received it. She refused to give any-she only offered me a rate of .10 cents for our texts for the last month, but as of right now-I am officially notified that my rate of texts from here on out would be 15 cents per text. I couldn’t believe she said that-I repeated ”So you are saying, as of right now-you are officially notifying me?” She said yes. If that is the case-I should be able to cancel my contract because I am just now officially informed of my text rate change, and since we are still having service problems after trying everything they suggested, we no longer want to keep the service. We especially don’t feel that we should have to pay even more for services that we are not happy with. She said no-and I said-but you stated yourself that people had 30 days from the time of discovery to cancel their contracts without an ETF if they did not approve of the rate change, and you just “OFFICIALLY” let me know of my rate change. She started to get a little more rude now and told me she could not waive the ETF. I explained that this didn’t make sense, from what she herself said in the beginning of the conversation. We keep going round in circles repeating the same points of view. I asked to speak to her supervisor. She told me they weren’t there but she would have them call me. I have “print screened” the page with the 5 cent text rate-with the date of 2-6-2008, so they can’t say it didn’t exist. If 5 cents per text was on their site and I saw it-they should honor it, and have it retro-active for the last 2 years. I just feel that they are cheating everyone, and they aren’t even letting anyone know about it. We shall see what happens.

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    15. If you want a refund for spam text messages, file a complaint with the BBB.org. The T-Mobile office of the president is much more responsive if you file a complaint since it cost T-Mobile $ to reply to the BBB. The BBB also looks out for the consumer and a refund/credit of $0.15 is so trivial compared to the amount of money T-Mobile has to pay an Executive Specialist to resolve these issues. If you get more spam messages, file another complaint and T-Mobile will refund the new charges.

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    16. T-Mobile you are quickly turning into a sleazy operation in my eyes as you continue to fail to address this text message problem. After having unwanted text spam just recently, I went to the cryptic mytmobile site and found where I needed to block any e-mail texts. I did not receive anything until today. Apparently, a relative (also on T-mobile, but maybe for not much longer) was text-spammed with multiple messages. Not having used her older-model phone for anything but voice calls she did not know how to access the texts and accidently forwarded them to me (the only number she had in her phone's phonebook). So now, not only is an senior citizen that has serious health conditions going to have to pay T-mobile for unwanted text spam, they are going to charge me again for the ones forwarded to my phone since they will argue they came from a "legitamate" phone number despite my explicitly telling/requesting them a few weeks ago that I DO NOT WANT TO SEND OR RECEIVE TEXT MESSAGES ON MY PHONE.

      My understanding is that there is a class action started against T-mobile, and I plan to seeing how to join it. Despite their decent pricing/phone service, this text-spamming (and their making millions of dollars off of it) is intolerable.

      Fortunately, the relative who had the problem is not still stuck in a contract period, so she can choose to leave T-mobile if this is not addressed. Unfortunately, I am stuck with two lines for another year and a half.

      SHAME ON YOU T-MOBILE!

      My next stop is BBB.org, and perhaps a post on YouTube flaming T-Mobile.

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    17. THANK YOU! to the person that recommended going to the BBB. If the T-Mobile customer care reps. refuse to credit your account for unwanted texts, I highly recommend going to the BBB.org site and file a complaint. They have the process set up so it is very easy to file electronically.

      I did file a BBB complaint after my last post and got an "executive response" from T-mobile today. A T-mobile representative called me this morning to inform me that they received my BBB complaint. While he agreed to credit my account $1.00 for the unwanted texts I received (and that the customer care reps. refused to credit), he still could not provide me with a satisfactory solution for blocking all future text messages (even with the e-mail filter activated from the cryptic mytmobile site). He gave the generic response that "they are looking into possible changes" (while they continue to make millions off of the unwanted text messages). However, he did appear sincere in that he said that they are considering changing their policy to allow free incoming text messages when I suggested this as an alternative to their revamping their entire billing system. He also extended some bonus text messages to July on my account. Which means that assuming no policy changes before then, that I will have to make another request then, so I don't get charged again.

      As it appears to be true that "the squeaky wheel gets the oil", make sure you go to the BBB if T-mobile does not credit your account for legitimate unwanted text messages. Keep filing with the BBB each time they don't respond adequately/fairly.

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    18. I have Verizon and contacting them about text spam does nothing and they've never refunded the charge for the spam message. Personally I think responding to spam text in any manner is a mistake becsuse it DOES confirm it's a live number; one other reason for that opinion: whenever I've checked out the phone numbers for the spam text, it's always a dead number...

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    19. Conclusion: Our cell phone providers are selling our phone numbers to spammers... logical.

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    20. I HAVE VERIZON. IT WAS SIMPLE FOR ME.GET ONLINE verizonwireless.com. I spoke with a tech. support guy on the phone and he guided me online and showed me three ways how to block spam.Sorry i don't have the link.You have to sign in to your verizon acct. and change preferences and the rest i forget how to get to the setting page. 1st , GET VERIZON,2ND THEY CAN HELP,don't bother the regular custumer service reps. They weren't helpful for this spam issue.Talk to their technical support. I DID THIS AND I GET NO-NONE-NADA, OH YEAH, ZERO SPAM NOW. NO SPAM. I have had Verizon for 10 years and will never switch. They have always been great for me.

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    21. i have been chatting with a girl in china on messenger.and we texted each other often.when we start and i rcieved a text from her it just showed her name and the message,but lately the messages are coming with a 5 digit number,then her phone number,her name then the message,and it will not let me reply to the message.i have to go to my contacts and send her a new message.i ask her about the 5 digit number,but she dosen't know anything about it.can you please tell me whats up with this,why the change all the sudden?
      thank you

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    22. anon 3/18, regarding those five digits before her number: the only thing I can think of would be the country code (China's is 86 plus a code for the region...see here for a list). You should probably check with your carrier as to why you can't respond to her texts.

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    23. I know. This is such a travesty. I have T-Mobile as well and I'm facing similar problems. I started experiencing this when I wanted to have one person's number blocked from sending text messages to me. I would receive periodic spam messages. I was told how to block them, but considering that I haven't changed my settings, it's strange how they still get through.

      Is anyone aware of a cell phone company that isn't plagued with this issue so badly? I would consider switching services as soon as possible.

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    24. @dee:

      I don't think there are any cell phone companies that outshine others in this regard. The text messages (and charges for signing up for monthly joke subscription services and the like) are coming from third party vendors. The cell phone companies are complicit in allowing charges to come through, but they're not ultimately responsible.

      It would be nice if they would develop the technology to block certain short codes, but that seems to not be a priority for them right now.

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    25. I use Verizon's "nickname" feature and disable text messages sent to my cell phone number. Works great.

      I've also started using a beta service at http://www.spamfreetext.com, which seems to work pretty well so far. My customers can send me text messages from a web form, but so far no spam has made it through whatever filters they use.

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    26. Well, after setting up as many blocks for text spam as the mytmobile site allows, I still received two text spams (from "5000"). As soon as I could I e-mailed the "executive response" department that credited my account back in 3/08 for unsolicited text spam after I filed a BBB complaint. Mysteriously, no record of the unwanted text spam appeared on this month's current bill.

      While I am glad to see that my e-mail successfully got through, I am still frustrated that I have to expend the energy to respond to this spam since T-Mobile still refuses to give its customers the necessary tool to block text messaging from their accounts. Furthermore, I find it disgusting that T-mobile had the gall to send a notice to its customers in this month's bill that they will be raising text rates to $0.20 per message (as if it actually costs them more for the message). So, while not giving their customers the ability to block texting, they are now going to charge those who do not expend the engergy to fight the charge even more. Bad form T-Mobile!

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    27. Hello everyone,

      I am trying to figure out something and I hope you can help me. My husband received a couple of texts that came in under the code 5000. At first, I thought it was SPAM but I read the content and it was from someone he knew. The content of the message contained stuff only a work person would know. Why does it come in under 5000 instead of a regular cell phone number? and how do I track where is came from? Please help. Thanks!

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    Thanks for commenting!