How do I stop getting spam SMS?

Nic Healey 23 August 2017 NEWS

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What is spam SMS?

Not content with just worming its way into your email inbox, spam is making its way into your SMS as well. It’s certainly not as common as email spam, but it can be even more problematic.

Just like email, a spam SMS is an unsolicited message from a company or individual that has a commercial or fraudulent component. At best, this can be just a nuisance, for example, a shop texting you about a sale when you have never agreed to get any messages from them.

On the darker side, spam SMS can help scammers gather important information from you by fraudulent means, with an eye towards ripping you off. When it comes to mobile premium services, you could be charged simply for receiving the message.

How do I identify an SMS as spam?

If you’re getting messages from any commercial entity that you haven't signed up to get SMS from, that’s spam. This is pretty easy to spot, but when the spam has a scamming component, it can be a little harder to see it for what it is. This can be an even harder to spot if the scam SMS is pretending to be from a financial institution or even a government agency like the Australian Tax Office.

If you’re getting messages from unfamiliar people that ask you to reply to a number or an email address, click through to web links or divulge personal information, then the chances are good it’s spam.

But don’t forget that not all SMS with an advertising component is automatically spam. If you’ve signed up to get notifications from businesses or services, then that’s a different matter. If you no longer want them, then a legitimate company will let you unsubscribe with minimal fuss.

What about mobile premium SMS?

It doesn't matter whether you call them mobile premium services, premium SMS, premium texts or 19 SMS services, these services can end up costing you more than you think.

These messages send information or services directly to your phone, charging you when they do. These might be chat services, SMS polls or competitions. They could even be news and weather updates. The list is essentially endless, and the charges associated with these services can end up being quite expensive.

Premium SMS charges could be a single one-off subscription or, more usually, a charge each time you get a message. That charge can be as high as $5 a message. That's even if your phone service provider offers "unlimited" free SMS because those plans typically only cover "standard" SMS. Premium SMS services are outside that definition, so they're not included.

Legally, you need to give consent to get 19 SMS services. Unfortunately, you could have unwittingly given consent via a message you sent or a link you've followed online. Of course, it's not always completely clear what these charges are and that's why premium SMS services can end up a hassle for people.

The good news is that according to The Australia Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), all the particulars of a service "must be clearly stated in any advertising, along with details of how often you will receive the content, its cost and how to stop the service."

That last one is the important part because it should be very easy for you to unsubscribe. If you have difficulty unsubscribing, the Department of Communications recommends you check out 19SMS.com.au for advice.

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How do I stop the spam?

The ACMA has a simple recommendation for the majority of unwanted spam texts: unsubscribe.

"Replying 'stop' to a message is the quickest way to opt out of receiving more messages," says the ACMA spam SMS FAQ. "Some messages may also include a telephone number that you can call to ensure you will not be contacted again."

You can also report the spam to the ACMA by forwarding the message to 0429 999 888 with an option to lodge a formal written complaint. This won't stop the spam by itself, but it will help the ACMA investigate and track spam and scam activities.

You can also contact your mobile service provider about the texts if they don't stop, letting them know that you've attempted to unsubscribe. Your provider may be able to help stop the messages and even reverse any charges.

If the spam is coming from a specific number, you could try blocking that individual number from your phone. It's not the perfect solution, but it can relieve a little of the nuisance factor.

While the specifics will vary from phone to phone, you can usually find the option to block or blacklist a number in your messaging app after tapping on the message itself.

For more details on dealing with phone spam, including the various ways to report it, visit the ACMA Mobile Spam page.

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