Legal Guide to Spam Text Messages in 2019
What is a spam text message?
Spam text messages can be defined as junk messages sent to a mobile phone as text messages through SMS (Short Message Service) without prior express permission or invitation from the receiver.
Is spam text illegal?
Since 2004, it has been illegal to send spam text messages or spam SMS under the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act). United States citizens who get unsolicited text messages have the right to take legal action against the senders.
You must permit all senders of text messages containing commercial messages first; otherwise, such messages will be deemed as unsolicited.
The law also prohibits sending spam text from auto-dialers – equipment that sends unsolicited messages to random recipients using a sequential or random number generator.
Spam text message exceptions in the law
Spam text messages need to be commercial for them to be deemed illegal. However, there are exceptions, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Companies that have a relationship with you can send you text messages containing warranty information, among other information like statements. Although such text messages can be annoying, they aren’t illegal. Furthermore, there is a way of opting out of getting messages from legitimate companies.
Why should you be worried about spam text?
Spam text messages are a threat!
Although SMS spam is still a problem in the US, it accounts for approximately 1% of all text messages sent. You may be tempted to ignore all spam text messages you receive. However, this isn’t recommended. Spam SMS poses threats that are similar to spam email. It is not advisable to ignore a threat!
Spam texts usually promise free gifts ranging from cheap credit cards, gift cards, and product offers to cheap mortgages and debt relief services. You must reveal your personal information to claim such gifts or offers. The personal information includes your name, bank a/c details, social security number, and credit card number, information, which is enough for fraudsters to steal your money and identity. Spam texts which have links in them can also install harmful software (malware that can collect private information from your mobile phone stealthily.
Spam texts can also lead to high cell phone bills. Unsolicited messages are usually charged whether you request them or not. They can also slow down your cell phone performance when suspicious programs are installed in your phone.
Why am I getting spam text messages?
In most spam text message cases, senders are usually auto-dialing services sending unsolicited texts to every conceivable mobile phone number. It is rare for senders to be individuals specifically targeting you. Auto dialers that target indiscriminately make it hard to stop SMS spam on an individual level. If a text is generated randomly, there are fewer solutions to preventing such text messages from reaching you.
If you don’t know why you are getting spam text messages, here are some common reasons:
- Your number can be found via a simple Google search
- Your number is publicly available in your social media accounts
- You don’t read user agreements/fine print
1. Your number can be found via a simple Google search
If your number is publicly available, your chances of receiving spam SMS are higher. Scammers search the web for publicly available numbers. Your phone number can become public for many reasons. If you own a business, including your personal phone number on your website will make it publicly visible. Such numbers can be collected and sold to fraudsters.
2. Your number is publicly available in your social media accounts
If you have added your number on social media sites like Facebook but haven’t made the number private, this could be another reason why you are getting unwanted spam texts. Your phone number should be available to the people you already know on social media (your friends, connects, or those you are following only). Otherwise, anyone can visit your profile and get your number.
3. You don’t read user agreements/fine print
If you opt for anything, download and install apps, complete website forms, among other similar actions that require you to give your phone number and agree to something, you must read the fine print; otherwise, you may be agreeing to spam text messages. Most user agreements have clauses in the fine print that state that individuals who complete forms or opt-in on offers automatically opt into receiving commercial messages via text. To stop receiving new SMS spam, read the user agreements or fine print before you opt-in on anything that requires you to provide personal information like your phone number.
How to stop spam texts
There are many ways to stop spam texts. The main ways include:
- Use mobile carrier tools available to you
- Use spam text blocking apps
- Block sender
- Don’t reply or respond to spam text messages
- Be extremely cautious when giving out your personal information
- Review your phone bill
- Taking action through federal bodies (FTC and FCC)
1. Use mobile carrier tools available to you
Mobile carriers have tools available to their customers that can be used to stop SMS spam. You can begin by reporting or making a formal complaint. If you are Bell, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, or AT&T subscriber, you can forward the text to 7726 for free. Follow the instructions you receive to report the spam text.
Mobile carriers have other tools. For instance, some carriers allow their customers to block text messages originating from PCs. T-Mobile subscribers can use text tools on the carrier’s website to filter text messages with specific keywords/subjects. For instance, it is possible to block spam texts about weight loss, and words like weight can be flagged. Some carriers offer more extensive spam text blocking tools than others. If you are tired of receiving spam text, you can explore various carrier tools that are readily available to you for free or at a fee.
2. Use spam text blocking apps
You can block SMS spam on your iPhone or android device. If you have an android device, there are countless spam blocking apps on Google’s app store for free and at a fee. To avoid being confused when selecting a suitable app from hundreds of other similar apps, choose one which has hundreds of thousands of positive reviews. You should also pay attention to the unique features of the app in question. For instance, some apps already have a database of spammers, which can be very helpful in blocking potential spammers.
3. Block sender
You can be able to block messages from any number with most Smartphones today. This feature comes inbuilt with most, if not all Smartphone brands. After opening a spam text, you can select message options and block the number sending the texts. However, this method may be ineffective if the spammer switches phone numbers.
4. Don’t reply or respond to spam text messages
You can stop new spam text messaging by ignoring links on spam texts. Text spammers target individuals who click on links in spam text. If you don’t respond to the text, spamming programs have no reason to target you and send you other correspondence. In most cases, the initial spam text received is usually sent randomly.
5. Be extremely cautious when giving out your personal information
You should ignore texts that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses won’t ask you for such information via text. Furthermore, treat your personal information like your phone number the same way you would treat your money. Don’t give out your personal phone number online unless you are absolutely sure. It’s advisable to have a separate phone number for opting in on offers online. You can use such a number to opt into offers or phone number requests you aren’t sure about.
6. Review your phone bill
As mentioned above, some spam text messages can result in charges even if you haven’t authorized them. Reviewing your cell phone charges every month will help you identify unauthorized charges. Report such charges and senders to your carrier.
You can take multiple measures discussed above to stop spam texts. However, you aren’t assured of eradicating the menace. Technological advancements are largely to blame for making it hard to fight spam texts. Technologies like Caller ID spoofing make it harder to stop spam texts by allowing spammers to remain anonymous. What’s more, these technologies are inexpensive to use and readily available to anyone.
Through Caller ID spoofing, spammers can hide or change the info received by their Caller ID, allowing them to display a different number from the actual one. The technology works with text messages as well as calls. With Caller ID spoofing, blocking specific spam text numbers is useless since spammers can use multiple fake phone numbers. The technology also makes it difficult for legal action to be taken since it’s hard to track perpetrators.
Furthermore, the most effective solutions come at a fee. Free spam blocking apps or features rarely stay effective for long because there is no financial incentive to keep up with countering technologies.
7. Taking action through federal bodies (FTC and FCC)
a. Filing a complaint with the FTC
The FTC complaint assistant allows you to detail the nature of your spam text complaint. For instance, you can let the FTC know if you are still receiving unwanted text messages after telling a sender to stop. You can also give details on how it all started providing information like date/s, sender’s phone number, and a written account of the message (such as the exact message). You will also be required to give the FTC information about you, such as your name after which your complaint will be reviewed and details sent via the email address you provided.
b. Filing a complaint with the FCC
The FCC has a consumer complaints center where you can launch a complaint. The complaints center is easy to use. Simply enter your email address, subject, and a description of your complaint. You can include additional details via the attachment feature.
Important: When filing a complaint with the FTC or FCC, don’t include confidential information such as your social security number in the complaint. Such information should remain confidential. Furthermore, it isn’t needed to solve a spam text complaint.
Taking legal action against spam text senders
You can take all the above actions and continue getting spam texts. Both legitimate senders (such as marketers) and illegal senders (such as spammers) can be very persistent. If you continue receiving text messages from a legitimate company, yet you have already opted out, the sender may have a case to answer. The same applies to consistent spam messages that aren’t blocked by a carrier despite reporting or taking other necessary measures. You can start by speaking to an attorney to see if your concerns can materialize into a lawsuit.
The TCPA has provisions in place for dealing with spam texts. Each violation can attract a fine up to $500 or more (up to $1,500) per willful violation. The penalties encourage individual consumers to seek legal action in small-claims courts.
Hiring a TCPA lawyer
TCPA claims on spam texts can be challenging to prove. The importance of hiring a good TCPA lawyer can’t, therefore, be overlooked. Like most cases, you need concrete evidence. Your lawyer should advise you on collecting proof that you received unsolicited texts.
Although this may seem obvious, you shouldn’t delete unsolicited/unwanted texts. You also need other information, such as proof you opted out of a messaging list. If you are suing a company for continuously sending messages after you instructed them to stop, you’ll need such correspondence.
If you don’t know whether you consent to the messages you are receiving, you can send the sender a message opting out and use such a message as a basis for launching a suit. An experienced TCPA attorney should advise you accordingly on how to collect evidence that will be admissible in court. He/she should also represent you.