Dealing with mobile SMS / text spam [POLL]

Filed Under: Featured, Mobile, SophosLabs, Spam

Email spam no longer causes me any problems; very little spam gets through to either my work or personal inbox. There is plenty coming in (a quick look into my spam quarantines confirms that!), but it is being successfully recognised and filtered out.

What about SMS spam? Is the same true?

For me at least, SMS spam seems to be a growing problem. In recent months, I have seen an increase in the volume of SMS spam reaching me. The messages cover the expected range of content; from insurance claims to adult content subscription services. Take an example I received over the weekend:

SMS message contents:

Housewife Jane loves being watched! call or text anytime on 0208 xxxxxx for the best action available.

+18 only CCbilled optout 08444 xxxxxx NFleet

Clearly a message touting some form of adult content. It's probably familiar to many readers - this type of spam is certainly not new. There is an twist to this particular campaign however. Notice the call-to-action phone number - this is an 0208 (London, UK) number, not a premium rate number that you might normally expect. *

Anyway, the point is that this campaign is old, simplistically constructed and should be easy to stop. But it is actually making its way to the end user - me, in this case.

Another example, that arrived several weeks earlier:

SMS message contents:

Free Msg: Text JOIN to 81xxx for your weekly access to Mobile Glamour. Subscription £1.50/5 days. Reply STOP to STOP.

A quick look in Google for this shortcode number (81xxx) shows plenty of hits from about two/three years ago. So, another example of an old, simple campaign that could easily have been blocked.

So why are these messages coming through? Shouldn't my network provider be doing a better job of filtering such messages?

The first step in being able to do that is to have visibility into the problem. How can users quickly report spam SMS messages (without relying on any separate app)?

In the world of email, in the rare event when I do receive a spam message, I am able to remove it from my inbox and report it to the appropriate organisation in a single click.

The situation is a little more complex for mobile users, but you can report the message to your network provider. In the UK at least, you can forward the messages to 7726, which spells SPAM on the numerical keypad. Easy to remember:

For some reason, Vodafone users need to prepend this number with 8 (making it '87726'), and Three users with a 3 (making it '37726'). So not quite so simple, but at least there is a reporting mechanism.

Note to providers: please can we have a menu option added into the default messaging applications for users to report spam?

Additionally, readers may be interested in a couple more options they have.

Firstly, they may wish to report the message to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). They provide a link to a survey where you can forward details of the offending messages to them for further investigation.

When the spammy messages involve premium-rate numbers or short-code numbers, PhonepayPlus may be of use (to UK customers at least). This is the organisation that regulates premium-rate services within the UK. Within their site is a useful tool that can be used to query information about the number in question.

Is the situation likely to get worse? Will I end up installing one of the many apps that purport to filter incoming SMS messages? I just might. What about you?

However, I think it is also important that people report active scams. This is the only way that perpetrators will be likely to be investigated, prosecuted and stopped. The network providers and software vendors can also help - make it easier for users to report suspect messages.

* Actually, this message looks like it may well be a continuation of a scam that has been active for several years. The basic modus operandi appears to be tricking recipients into calling a normal geographical number, and then subsequently calling them back in order to invoice them.

woman looking at phone image courtesy of ShutterStock

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13 Responses to Dealing with mobile SMS / text spam [POLL]

  1. Simon McAllister · 737 days ago

    Thanks for the options to report spam sms. However I have little faith that, as an end user, I would see a reduction if i used them, plus it would cost me each time I reported. Surely a simple 'block' feature on the mobile device and/or only allow incoming SMS messages from contacts in your address book, would be the answer? Some 'phones' offer this but as it is, mobile manufacturers and network carriers do not provide enough privacy protection for their customers. Probably because they make zero revenue from implementing privacy options. We need them to work together (like they do to make the devices work on the networks in the first place) to provide a privacy platform that works. As you said, blocking emails is quite simple these days. But blocking SMS is tough/non existent, some phones allow a blocklist (up to a max number of blocked senders), the iPhone offers nothing! And then there's iMessage.... another can of worms where privacy is concerned. Privacy is more sensitive these days and should be much higher on the list, or even on it!

  2. whatever · 737 days ago

    In Italy there is no automatic spam reporting like in UK.
    Anyway you can always call phone operator and report the spam.

    In italy it's pretty rare to receive such spam as there's a strong privacy law.

    You can ask to know how someone got informations about you, what they know and ask for changes or deletion. And if you get a SMS, you can surely can ask to know such informations (as they at least know your number).

    Not answering to such requests or obtaining data without consent is a fast way to get fined.

  3. David · 737 days ago

    Is there a way to report spam SMS in the United States?

    I wonder if phone service providers let the spam through because some people don't have unlimited texting and still pay per message.

    • Fraser Howard · 737 days ago

      Looking around on their web sites and support forums would suggest that both Verizon and AT&T support reporting spam texts via 7726. Probably other carriers as well. It is worth clarifying with your provider, but from what I can see for the ones that support (n)7727, there is no charge.

  4. Lyman · 737 days ago

    If you are in Canada and are a Rogers subscriber, you, apparently, can use the 7727 number. At least according to a user on their forums.
    This is becoming a real pain as I have a limited account and am starting to get several on a weekly basis.
    Not sure about the other wireless networks.

  5. FEJ · 736 days ago

    Lyman, Fraser, everyone,

    In the USA the carriers at&t, T-Mobile, and Verizon all urge forwarding spam to the short code 7726 (SPAM), a zero-charge action. Often an ACK arrives requesting details on the spam-sender -- your reply with those details is free of charge as well. Other carriers? Ask.

  6. Steven · 736 days ago

    In Australia the regulator has a scheme for reporting SMS spam. Forward the message to 0429 999 888. You can register at the ACMA's website, I guess that allows them to get in touch with you if they need to: http://www.acma.gov.au/interforms/smsRegister_for...

  7. zitlips · 736 days ago

    While 7726 may work for many situations, I occasionally get a message which disables an ability to forward or even erase. What do I do then ?

  8. Mrs. W · 736 days ago

    You've made my day. :) Just a couple weeks ago I was saying, "I wish I had a Report as Spam button for SMSes."

    Here in Vancouver (BC), 7726 also works, and Bell returns an SMS thanking me for reporting it.

  9. Stefan · 736 days ago

    Problem is (certainly with Vodafone UK) when you forward that spam message to (8)7726 it only forwards the message and not the number it came from, Vodafone then ask you for the number that sent it to you which you have to try and forward separately.

    It needs to be a bit more slick to be of any use.

    Stef

  10. John · 736 days ago

    Totally agree with Simon Mc ..... Give us a setting to allow only texts from known (address book) senders.

    Enable it or not, at our choice.

    Something for IOS7 ?

  11. Simon · 735 days ago

    Similarly to Stefan above, when you forwards the text to my network, 3; it replies and asks for the number sent from.
    While a bit fiddly - either remembering the number or writing it down, I recieve spam from web-based services. The last one was from "quidcouk", but when you forwards that on the response is to call customer services.
    I think the networks should have an option to bar web-based messaging. You only ever recieve them from competitions, spam services, and the occasional gas company.

  12. Timesin Sms · 721 days ago

    Email spam, also known as junk email or unsolicited bulk email (UBE), is a subset of electronic spam involving nearly identical messages sent to numerous recipients by email. Clicking on links in spam email may send users to phishing web sites or sites that are hosting malware.
    This all i was knowing but Thanks SIMON you information is useful to me

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About the author

Fraser is one of the Principal Virus Researchers in SophosLabs. He has been working for Sophos since 2006, and his main interest is in web related threats.