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Summary:

The number of junk text messages in the U.S. reportedly rose to 4.5 billion last year. This can create a nasty choice for consumers — pay to be spammed or pay protection money to a carrier.

The number of junk text messages in the U.S. reportedly rose to 4.5 billion last year. This can create a nasty choice for consumers — pay to be spammed or pay protection money to a carrier.

For anyone out there lucky enough not to have received one, spam texts are unwanted ads or scam promotions sent directly to your cell phone. It feels as intrusive as a stranger in your bathroom. Bloomberg reports that the volume of these messages soared 45 percent last year.

The problem is not the just invasive nature of the text but that many users also face the indignity of paying for those intrusions. Unless a user has an unlimited texting plan, she may have to pay 20 cents for every inane, unwanted text message that hits her cell phone.

And therein lies the rub. Today, free messaging services like Kik or WhatsApp mean many users may not want to pay for a text plan at all. But the requirement to pay for incoming messages means that people may feel compelled to buy the carrier plans as a form of spam insurance. Worse, the phone carriers have jacked texting plans from $5 to $20 — all this for tiny bits of data that cost virtually nothing to transport.

The Federal Trade Commission is trying to get on top of the problem and, according to Bloomberg, has prosecuted a handful of spam senders. But ironically, it’s legitimate companies like Timberland and Jiffy Lube who have paid the most in penalties — these companies are easy prey for class action lawyers who wait for them to bungle a marketing campaign and then sue for millions under the Telemarketing and Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Companies like Twilio that offer “club-texting” services are also facing class actions.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports the wireless industry is looking into acquiring anti-spam services like San Francisco based Cloudmark. The industry is also grousing about the costs of investigating consumer spam complaints.

The text spam problem is real but consumers should not be in the position of paying for these privacy invasions. The FCC should force the carriers to cease charging for incoming messages until the spam menace is solved.

The reported 4.5 billion text spam messages were among the 2.3 trillion sent overall last year.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock user [Lukiyanova Natalia / frenta].

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  1. Oscar Gonzalez aka @notagrouch Monday, April 30, 2012

    texting and data plans with carriers are such scams. It is by far, the most expensive data storage/transportation. Multiply the size of a text enough times to accumulate a Gigabyte worth of data, now how much would that be on ATT&’s or Verizon’s bill. Astronomical. These are today’s con artists, the phone carriers.

  2. Well of course….” The FCC should force the carriers to cease charging for incoming messages until the spam menace is solved.” Just like we don’t pay for fraud on our credit cards or collect calls/900 calls that don’t belong on our phone bills, there is plenty of presidence here.

  3. I received a spam txt this weekend. I called AT&T to complain. They refused to do anything. They offered me the option to pay them $5 a month to create a black list to filter spam. That is of course worthless because I have to know ahead of time who is spamming me and from what fake number they use.

    In the meantime, AT&T is laughing all the way to the bank. I have to pay AT&T to receive that spam. But they won’t do a damn thing about it. Grrrrrr.

    One more spam, and I will disable texting.

  4. Cell phone numbers can be added to the FCC do-not-call registry. In my case, I was getting automated voice messages from a collections agency registered in Puerto Rico, but I have also had instances of text spam in the past. A few weeks after reporting the incident to the FCC, the annoying calls went away.

    You can call and ask your carrier to credit the text charges, but you’re a lot smarter adding your number to the do-not-call list. I now get zero unwanted calls.

  5. David McCormack Tuesday, May 1, 2012

    The norm on this side of the Pond is that you only pay to send texts. There is no charge to receive them, apart from subscription-based ‘premium’ texts, naturally. Problem solved.

  6. Its rather unfortunate the way carriers are milking consumers at both ends.
    a. They shell out significant money to get unlimited text plans, whose utility is dwindling slowly.
    b. Then the text channels are choked with spam.

    Moreover, do you know that on an iPhone, its not even possible to block certain numbers from texting/calling you. So for these services you have to go back and contact the carriers.

    Interestingly I bought a droid and use an application by the name of Phone Warrior – it is pre trained to identify text spam very similar to your email spam filters and has a call blocker too.

    So I have a choice now.

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