I recently started receiving spam (unsolicited) text messages on my iPhone. I first received one on New Year's Eve, at 8:31 p.m., and then again at 5:00 a.m. a few days later (nice wakeup call... thanks).
These messages were all from some company named 'GagaCell', which didn't turn up many good search results (most were about Lady Gaga, and I'm pretty sure she doesn't harass people with text messages—just her music and lack of style.
After some online research, I discovered that many people, even after sending STOP to these shortcodes, end up with monthly charges on their cell phone bills. Since I watch my bill pretty closely, I noticed that, all the sudden, I was getting a $9.99 subscription from 'BULLROARE', a content provider I'd never heard of, from short code 31850 (The subscription name was 'IQ32CALL8668611606').
From my work with flockNote, I know just how difficult (and expensive!) it is to get and maintain a shortcode, and how difficult it is to meet all the mobile phone carrier's stringent requirements for legimacy... so I was surprised that there is/was almost no way to retaliate against these spammers!
A Rampant Problem
There are literally thousands of people finding these fraudulent charges on their bills, and in addition, I'm sure there are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, who have no idea they're getting an extra $9.99, $19.99 or more on their monthly bills!
I asked the kind AT&T representative who I called about any method of reporting short code abuse or spam, and she said, "Well, you can call the number for the company that owns the shortcode. It's on your bill."
Yeah, just like I'm going to ask the used car salesman if the car he's selling is really the best deal I can find.
Like Dan, from the blog Ordering Disorder, I asked the AT&T representative if there was any way I could prevent automated subscriptions on my line, and she mentioned something called 'Purchase Block.'
Basically, any time a company adds any charges to my AT&T bill (which currently happens invisibly to me), I will now get a text message from AT&T asking me to enter my 'parental control' PIN to authorize the charge. What a brilliant idea!
Just like Dan, though, I wonder why this is not the default. It's as if AT&T was in cahoots with these spammy companies... I truly believe that if AT&T seriously cared for its customers more than its own interests, it would not allow any company to automatically bill anyone for anything without the user's explicit authorization. That's kinda how it works for everything else in the world.
Reporting Abuse / Spam Shortcodes
As mentioned earlier, the representative told me that if I wanted to report abuse/spam from the shortcode, I should contact the 1-800 number on the bill for the company that was actually spamming me. No thanks! You'd think AT&T, Verizon, etc. would care more about preventing spam for its users...
Does anyone else know anything about a more effective way to shut down frequent abusers like 31850 (Bullroare from mblox.com), or 25870 (GagaCell IQ), both of whom are from the same company, which can be reached at 1-866-861-1606?
Calling the company and telling them they should shut down their primary source of income is not going to help (in fact, they'll probably try sending SMS messages to the Skype or Google number I'd call them from!).
[Update: This article from TidBITS has one way that you can report spam messages via AT&T's 'Mark the Spot' app: Report Text Message Spam to AT&T].