A couple of months ago my wife and I had a rash of text/SMS spam sent to our phones. I decided to see what facilities my provider had to mitigate the problem. Unfortunately AT&T recommends sending the code “STOP” as a response to unwanted messages. Having experience dealing with other forms of spam over the years, I knew responding to spam was never a good idea. I discovered that my provider has a short code 7726 (SPAM) to which you can forward the offending messages. Once you forward the message, AT&T then sends an automated response asking you to send them the number that sent you the offending message. (seriously AT&T??) This is fine if the spammer is using a real phone number, but many of them don’t. Like the mobile providers themselves, many spammers use short codes which AT&T claims are untraceable. (seriously, this is utter BS…) Later, I got a message from another spammer thanking me for signing up for their service and immediately got one of their message-of-the-day texts. This got me worried. Was someone out there signing me up for this stuff as a prank, or was the system really this broken? Either way, I wasn’t going to have any of that. I scoured AT&T’s website looking for ways to block charges. I did eventually find it, but it wasn’t particularly easy. If you find yourself in this situation, your best bet is to do what I did and just call customer support. Tell them you want to block any 3rd party charges to your account. What they’ll do is add a feature to your account that requires an authorization code to approve any charges to the account. So, now we’re protected, but why is this even necessary?
The problem with the phone companies is that they just don’t care. Building better facilities to prevent fraud isn’t necessarily profitable. They’re in the business of getting you to spend money on features, not save. The problem is that there’s no transparency and no way to opt-out other than blocking all charges. SMS is a wireless industry cash cow. (this blog post has a good explanation) It’s a huge business and one the carriers want to keep. If you’ve ever wondered how phone companies can afford to subsidize expensive devices like the iPhone, this is how. Unfortunately, I don’t think anything is going to change unless the federal government steps in and does something, but honestly they’ve got bigger fish to fry. If you have a wireless phone with text/SMS capability (basically every cellphone on the planet) you need to set up a block on 3rd party charges to your account. It’s the only way to protect yourself.