Image by: Sean MacEntee

You’ve probably been the victim of a misleading text from one of your favorite companies promising gift cards or other fabulous prizes.  By clicking the link, you’d likely have been directed to a web site asking for your personal information, such as social security or credit card number, and rarely leading to an actual reward.  But even if you’re lucky enough to end up with an actual gift card, it isn’t free.

In the last year, about 60 percent of cell phone users have received one or more of these spam text messages, with roughly 13 percent clicking the link included in the text.  Apparently, people are much more likely to trust and quickly respond to text messages than emails.  In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission received seven times as many complaints of spam text messages as in the previous years.  Not only does responding to these messages cost people higher charges on their cell phone bills, but providing personal information can also cause people to fall victim to other scams.   Collectively, these spam messages have cost consumers millions of dollars.  The main problem, however, is that sending such unsolicited messages is illegal under civil laws, especially when these spam messages are sent to numbers on the federal “Do Not Call” registry.

Thus, the FTC filed eight lawsuits against companies that have allegedly issued spam texts, accusing them of ordering and engineering the sending of hundreds of millions of spam messages to cell phone users.  The cases consist of 29 named defendants, including 18 individuals the companies hired to send such messages.

The FTC is asking the courts to freeze the assets of the defendants and to issue injunctions prohibiting the spam texts and deceptive claims.  Hearings are scheduled for the next few days.  In the meantime, cell phone carriers have created a joint depository to prevent spam messages.  So forward your next spam text to 7726, report it to the FTC, and delete it without responding.

–Marina Visan

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6 Responses to Attention Kmart Shoppers: Click HERE for a $10,000 Gift Card

  1. Marina Visan says:

    Yes, it was pretty surprising that more users reply to/follow the links in a text message rather than an email. I think it’s because this is a relatively new way to reach customers, as opposed to emailing, which has been popular for quite some time. I think that African princes asking for donations and other spam emails (ex. viruses) have been well publicized, and the same can’t really be said for such texts.

  2. Hunter says:

    Like everyone else, I hadn’t heard of the joint repository. Given the number of times Verizon has decided to text me about things that are useless or inapplicable to me (not all that many times, but still more than zero), you’d think they could have mentioned something that would be handy to all of their users–particularly when it’s the carriers who have set up the reporting system.

    And I’m with R.L.; it’s stunning that ~13% of cell phone users have followed the links in the text. Something about receiving texts from unknown numbers with fewer than 10 digits inherently makes me suspicious. I would think that this suspicion would arise even in people who didn’t grow up being taught to be leery of phishing, etc. based on a now (I would assume) nearly universal (at least in the U.S.) familiarity with the basics of telephone numbers. Admittedly, there are a lot of texting services that use fewer digits, but still…

  3. R.L. says:

    Great information Marina! I will definitely be using that number next time I get a spam text. I had never heard of that option either. From your post, I was surprised 13% of people clicked on the link from the text. I thought it would have been much lower.

  4. JL says:

    Interesting post, Marina. I was really surprised to read that people are much more likely to trust and respond to text messages than emails. Using email, scammers are able to send messages from email addresses that appear to be associated with legitimate retailers–for example, I have received spam emails that looked like they came from FedEx email addresses. I assumed that consumers would be tricked more often by these emails than by text message scams from random phone numbers.

  5. Emily says:

    I agree with Nick. This is the first I’ve heard of this! But it definitely seems to be a problem that customers would be happy to help fix. I am very happy to see the FTC taking action to protect consumers in this way.

  6. Nick B. says:

    That junk depository sounds great and since I seem to get one of these junk texts weekly, I’ll be using it. But it certainly would have been nice if my cell carrier would have told me about it. It seems fairly useless unless the cell customers learn about it.