Dealing with mobile SMS / text spam [POLL]

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