The FCC Is Fighting Back Against Text Messaging Spam

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Over the past several years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has thankfully taken some pretty aggressive steps to combat robocalls, and now the commission has set its sights on establishing similar rules to deal with text messaging spam.

In a new statement, FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel describes how her agency plans to target and eliminate “unlawful” text messages, which she notes can be even more insidious and dangerous than robocalls.

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After all, unlike a telephone call, a text message can contain embedded links that many folks will tap on without giving it a second thought. These could be “phishing” links to direct users to sites where they may be prompted to give up personal information, or they may even lead to sources of malware that could infect your browser. Even a device as secure as an iPhone or iPad isn’t completely immune to such things.

Scam artists have found that sending us messages about a package you never ordered or a payment that never went through along with a link to a shady website is a quick and easy way to get us to engage on our devices and fall prey to fraud.Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC chairwoman

This week, the FCC announced its first rules focused on scam texting, or “robotexts,” as it calls them, adding that complaints about text message scams have risen more than 500% in recent years. In 2015, the FCC received approximately 3,300 complaints; last year, that number had increased to 18,900 — and that’s only the people who bother to complain to the FCC, so it’s likely just the tip of a much larger iceberg.

Robotexts pose a unique threat to consumers: unlike robocalls, scam text messages are hard to ignore or hang-up on and are nearly always read by the recipient – often immediately. In addition, robotexts can promote links to phishing websites or websites that can install malware on a consumer’s phone.Federal Communications Commission

As with its work over the years to combat robocalls, these new rules are only the first salvo in what will likely be a more protracted war against robotexts. However, the FCC has to start somewhere, and the new regulations will require mobile service providers to block text messages that are “highly likely to be illegal.”

“These robotexts are making a mess of our phones. They are reducing trust in a powerful way to communicate. So today we take our first step to stop these unwanted texts at the network level. We put in place rules that require mobile wireless carriers to block texts that come from invalid, unallocated, or unused numbers. In other words, we require providers to stop the texts that are most likely to be illegal. This approach has the support of Attorneys General from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It’s good stuff. But we are not stopping here. Because we also adopt a rulemaking to explore other way stop unwanted text messages, including authentication measures and rules to prevent the abuse of consumer consent.”
— Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC chairwoman

This is pretty low-hanging fruit — the type of stuff that carriers should have started blocking on their own from the very start. For example, text messages should be blocked when they “appear to come from phone numbers that are unlikely to transmit text messages.” That would include invalid, unallocated, or unused numbers. Further, numbers that subscribers have “self-identified as never sending text messages,” or even numbers allocated to government agencies and other well-known organizations that are never used for text messaging.

Since mobile carriers will now be required to block text messages more aggressively, the FCC is requiring the carriers to set up a point of contact in the event a legitimate text sender finds their messages blocked.

The FCC is also seeking public comment on other strategies it can adopt to eliminate text messaging spam, including expanding the Do-Not-Call Registry protections to include text messaging — if a marketer can’t call you, they shouldn’t be able to text you either — and closing what’s known as “the lead generator loophole” — a tactic that marketers have used to take a single consumer consent and apply it broadly to deliver robocalls and text messages from thousands of other marketers.

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