Computer Crime Research Center


Curbing Cell Phone Spam

Date: October 29, 2008

Cell-phone spam still trails computer spam, with the typical cell-phone user receiving at most a few spam text messages per year rather than the thousands that may bombard their computer-based e-mail accounts. But in some ways, cell spam is more annoying. It can cause your phone to ring or vibrate at inopportune times and possibly cost you money—typically 10 to 25 cents per message if you don't have a text-messaging plan.

Since 2005, the CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault on Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) has prohibited commercial e-mail and text messages to be sent to cell phones without "express prior authorization." Unfortunately, the law leaves commercial entities lots of loopholes. For example, it doesn't prevent your carrier or its partners from sending you upgrade offers or account notices. Also, non-commercial organizations such as charities and political campaigns can shoot you all the messages they want on your dime.

Here's what to do to minimize your chances of getting unwelcome text messages:

Act fast. Call your carrier as soon as you receive a spam message. While that may seem like overkill, immediate action may pay off in the long run. No hard-and-fast rules govern the removal of text-message charges; you may have more luck having a handful of charges waived than waiting until, say, several dozen have accumulated.

Block cell spam at the source. Virtually all spam messages come over the Internet via a SMSC (Short Message Service Center) or e-mail/Internet gateway, possibly from overseas. Go to your cell account online and access your e-mail and/or messaging preferences. Then activate the setting that blocks messages over the Internet.

You needn't block all messages; some carriers like Verizon allow you designate certain addresses from which you don't want to receive texts. That way you can still receive "good" messages from your bank, airline, and other vendors with whom you have relationships. You can also ask the customer service rep for help accessing your account.

Report problems. File a complaint with the FCC by filling out online form 1088.

Register your cell number to block spam. You may already have registered your landline with the National Do Not Call Registry. You may not know, however, that you can also register your cell number to block telemarketers from sending communications of any type to your cell account.

Don't invite more spam. Free or inexpensive ringtones and games from third-party vendors may be tempting. But each such download may unwittingly put you at risk of spam messages or other headaches, such as fraudulent charges and identity theft. The bottom line: As with your computer, never download to your phone from a service you don’t know and trust.
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