Cell phone scam?
January 15, 2011 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Why am I getting spammed by weird British text messages? I am not British!

Since Christmas I have gotten four text messages, each from a different British number. I'm posting them here verbatim.

This has never happened before (not in German and certainly not in English), I don't own a British number. What the hell is going on and how do I stop it?

25. December (+44 7786....): Hey charlton. Merry Christmas to you and the Walker Clan. We got our share of snow here! it dropped to -10 would you believe! Have a good one! Rudy

1. January (+44 7837...): 4estita Nova Godina! Nmogo sdrave i kasmet prez novate 2011

10. January (+44 7960...): Salam akhi, Nsilisiniz? Hope all is tamam! I sent the quram to your cousin, with a general book on deen. Make duas ve selamlarimla.

15. January (+44 7983 868617): Hurray!!!Your Mobile number has won £500,000 Pounds in the Ongoing uk-nokia Jackpot,for claims contact us via Email: nokiaclaimsinc@live.co.uk Tel+447045700209

Is all of it a huge scam or just the last one? Am I on some kind of British spam me list? I want out!
posted by Omnomnom to Technology (11 answers total)
Why am I getting spammed by weird Kazakhstani calls? I am not Kazakhstani!

You can try asking your cell provider, but in my case, their line was "Sorry, we can't block harassing calls--you're free to change your number." Which isn't helpful, since Kazakhstan seems to have scooped up all their customers' numbers.
posted by Beardman at 8:25 AM on January 15, 2011

In the end your mobile phone provider, like any other business, cares about money. Someone is spamming you with text messages, and the phone numbers may not even be real, but in the end your phone company will keep on sending them until you complain because money is money; smells like green, feels like green, to hell with who's sending it.

Someone is harassing you, so what do you do? Start a paper trail; telecommunications technology isn't magic (I wish it was, as this would make my day job far easier) and everything leaves a trail:
  • Send a letter to your telecommunications providers detailing every text, when it was received, and the sending number. Tell them that ultimately you want the messages to stop, and tell them you will escalate the issue in 30 days if you continue to receive such messages (hey, these things take time).
  • In all likelihood your telecomm's company will either a) send you a generic response and do nothing, or b) send you / contact you and apologise that they can't do anything. They're lying (remember, smells like green).
  • File a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission; this is what they're there for. SMS spam is illegal under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the CAN-SPAM Act.
  • File a complain with the Federal Trade Commission; they cannot resolve your issue but it helps them out in general.
  • Check with your local state legislature to see what appropriate channels of complaint are open to you.
  • Contact your local police station in a non-emergency fashion and figure out your options; you may need to file a complaint, etc. In the UK harassment, regardless if its medium, is taken very seriously. The police have the right to force the telecommunications provider to detail the source of the text messaging traffic.

posted by asymptotic at 10:31 AM on January 15, 2011

Response by poster: Hm, asymptotic, I'm not in the US either. I'm not sure where to adress the problem as the spammer seems to be somewhere in Britain and I'm not.
I'm sure you're right about the telco not doing anything as long as they don't have to, but what can they actually do, given that it's a different number all the time? I guess I could complain to a consumer rights agency?
posted by Omnomnom at 11:47 AM on January 15, 2011

Response by poster: Oh God, I just got another one...
posted by Omnomnom at 11:57 AM on January 15, 2011

Where are you? I sometimes get SMSs like this. You may find that you're being charged for them. Investigate with your mobile phone provider, who can usually block premium rate services.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 12:01 PM on January 15, 2011

I maybe be missing something, but couldn't this just be accidental? They're all from different numbers, there doesn't seem to be anything sinister about them, though of course the last one looks like some kind of scam, but otherwise, they could just be people sending to the wrong number.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:36 PM on January 15, 2011

I'm not sure where to adress the problem as the spammer seems to be somewhere in Britain and I'm not.

Address the problem to your carrier. And the people spamming you may not be actually +44 but are spoofing you. Or they are premium UK text services that will cost you more.

But if there are several people on your carrier getting this spam, the carrier can block them or be able to rat them out to the service sending it.

Depending on your mobile phone and the volume of these texts, you may wish to change your default text chime to be silence, and make all of the numbers on your contact list have a tone. Of course, new people you want to hear from will slip through. And bot SMS you subscribe to with an ever changing short code sender ID won't work.

I get a call every few weeks from a random place that tells me in Spanish I've won $1000. It is recorded and there's no way to get on there do not call list. So I just stopped answering calls I don't recognize. It is a pain, but if I changed my number, I'd still get these annoyances.
posted by birdherder at 1:38 PM on January 15, 2011

Response by poster: I_pity_the_fool: I'm in Austria.

AmbroseChapel: Since I posted this question I got another three texts, one complete gibberish and two telling me I won something. No, this is not accidental.

birdherder: I called my provider (orange) and as asymptotic predicted they said
- The only thing I can do is change my number
- They don't block numbers anymore (I asked what if I get a stalker - they said in that case I'd need a police report to make them do it)

I checked my cell phone billing app - so far there have been no additional costs or premium services listed anywhere.

Things I haven't tried:
- I read that you can ask cell phone providers to block all premium services. I'd have to ask orange about that. That would mean I couldn't use any services, though.
- I read that the easiest solution offered by Verizon and AT&T is to block all messages sent from the internet as that usually reduces the problem significantly. But from what I read orange doesn't support that.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:53 PM on January 15, 2011

Small bit of information. As you mentioned, of the four you've quoted it's only the last one that is obviously dodgy. The first is entirely plausible as a text message sent to the wrong number by mistake (it was that cold in Britain before Christmas); the second I don't know; the third is written partly in religiously-inflected Turkish but doesn't sound implausible. ("Peace brother, how are you? Hope all is well! I sent the Quran [typo] to your cousin, with a general book on religion [the word deen only being used for Islam]. Say your prayers--with my best wishes.")

But obviously, from the fourth one out you've got problems. I suppose my point, if there is one, is that this didn't necessarily start scammy.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 5:55 PM on January 15, 2011

I used this as a launching place when I had this problem. I downloaded a free app from the droid Market that I think was called EasyFilter or something like that, and it seemed to stop the problem - I had several texts that read as if they were from someone in Australia who was texting someone they knew. Good luck!
posted by Lynsey at 11:08 PM on January 15, 2011

Sorry, i wasn't aware you weren't in the US. In fact your position is far stronger: the EU has spectacularly strong laws surrounding privacy and data protection, far stronger than the US. Maybe contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Ministry for Economic Affairs and Labour or the Consumer Association?

As a general reference to anyone else who stumbles onto here, here is an EU Information Society reference to a list of national contacts for online privacy complaints; Austria is on the list.

You should stand up for yourself, if only out of consideration for the many others who remain silent. Spammers suck, and they remain because of the inertia and apathy of consumers, and the unremitting greed of telecommunications companies. I'm particularly incensed about this because SMS is materially different from email spam, in that all parties in the communication path charge a small fee for transmitting the SMS. (Imagine a big room of businesspeople all winking at each other, surrounded in clouds of cigar smoke.)
posted by asymptotic at 6:29 AM on January 16, 2011

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