FCC Takes New Aim at Text Message Spam

The new rules will make it more difficult for scammers to use spoofed phone numbers to prey on vulnerable people.

June 7, 2017
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Email spam has been a huge problem since the beginning of the Internet. However, text message spam is just as bad, even if it doesn’t get us much attention.

According to studies from 2013, about 72% of Americans have received text message spam. Anecdotal reports suggest that this figure is even higher today.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced that it is taking new aggressive action to curb SMS spam.

The new rules will make it more difficult for scammers to use spoofed phone numbers to prey on vulnerable people.

One major problem with spoof phone numbers is that it becomes very difficult for people to file complaints. It’s very difficult for regulators to trace these numbers, especially if the scammers use voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) phones.

Limits of the FCC’s New Initiative

The FCC may find ways to stop spoofing and limit annoying SMS spam, but there are clear limits to their approach. At the end of the day, it will be up to customers to protect themselves.

The FCC Can’t Be Too Aggressive Without Getting Sued by Legitimate Telemarketers

Telemarketing may be annoying, but it isn’t illegal. Most telemarketers operate legally. Companies speak out against malicious SMS marketing campaigns.

If the FCC became too aggressive with its attempts to halt spoofing, it could block legitimate telemarketers and end up on the wrong end of a lawsuit. CS Monitor reports the FCC is trying to find a fair solution.

“The commission is both proposing new rules and asking for help. In a shift away from its long-standing policy of never allowing phone companies to block calls, the FCC is proposing allowing providers to do so if it appears the call originated from a number that is unassigned or invalid or is one a subscriber previously requested be blocked because of concerns that his or her number was being spoofed.

But the FCC is also asking phone companies and the public to come up with ideas to ensure that legal telemarketers aren’t also blocked. The commission is seeking public comments through the spring, and the final rules aren’t likely to come into force before late this year.”

More Subtle Scams May Thrive

While the new FCC rules will likely limit the more heinous forms of SMS spam, other forms may be even more persistent in the future. Morey Haber, The Vice President of technology for BeyondTrust, states that scammers are getting smarter about luring people into subscribing to their SMS schemes.

“Spam texts are actually very prevalent,” Haber explains. “People will often opt in for text messages and not realize they have done so. This could be anything from buying something online to even going to a sporting event where the big board says, ‘Text your favorite something to this number.”

As long as they provide accurate disclaimers, most are operating just within the bounds of the law. This makes it more difficult for regulators to put a stop to their activities.

Others are outright scamming people, but it is very difficult to trace them since they don’t use the same type of spoofing strategies the FCC is targeting.

What Should Customers Do?

Haber and other experts warn that customers need to be diligent to protect themselves from SMS scammers. The FCC may limit scams, but can only do so much. Here are some tips customers should follow.

Be Careful What they Opt into

By law, companies must have privacy policies and terms of use on every subscription page. Customers should never opt into any SMS list without verifying this and looking for trust credentials first.

Don’t Reply to Obvious Spam

SMS scams are often designed to get customers to reply to a message. They hope that people will reply to a message to either opt-in, opt-out or take some other action. Haber explains that doing so will confirm that the number is active, which may lead SMS spammers to find more creative ways to con them through another number.

Be Cautious Giving Any Information

You have probably heard this a million times, but you should never give your information away to a total stranger over the phone or through any forms through an unverified SMS message. Hundreds of thousands of people fall for these scams every year because people aren’t cautious enough.

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