T-Mobile And The FCC Tell You To Reply To Txt Msg Spammers

Crissy received some txt message spam on her cellphone and was understandably annoyed because incoming txt messages are not included in her package with T-Mobile.

She called T-Mobile to complain and what was their advice? Txt the spammer back (at her expense) and ask them to stop. What?

We thought this was the dumbest advice we’ve ever heard, so we wondered where it came from. Guess where? The FCC!

On the section of their website that deals with cell phone spam (which is illegal, by the way) the FCC suggests:

If you open an unwanted message, send a stop or opt out message in response.

This is simply not good advice, for at least two reasons:

1) It’s a waste of a text message.
2) You’re letting the spammer know that he/she has reached a working email address that is, in fact, connected to a phone, and, potentially, revealing your phone number.

Instead of wasting your time helping the spammers bother you, here’s what you should do (this worked when it happened to us):

1) Call and demand a credit from your cellphone company. Tell them that cellphone spamming is illegal and you want to be compensated.

2) If the problem doesn’t go away, demand a free number change or ask that txt messages be completely disabled.

3) Don’t waste your money arguing with a spammer who already doesn’t care that they are doing something illegal.

4) Report the spammer to the FCC and to your state’s Attorney General. In Illinois, for example, Lisa Madigan sued cellphone spammers. Cellphone spamming is illegal under the provisions of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act.

Crissy writes:

Dear Consumerist,

I am writing in hopes that someone high up at T-Mobile will see this and realize how stupid their anti-text spam advice is.

Today, I received text message spam. This rarely happens, but it is an annoyance, especially since my plan (the basic family plan) does not include free incoming or outgoing text messages. Here is the text of the message I received:

Lovett@feroliegroup.com/MBN/(W.indows V.ista and all Adobe software) 90%o.f.f visit:(222. usa010 .com)

Clearly spam, right? The e-mail address is the only source information I have, and I’m not about to respond to it, just as I wouldn’t respond to similar solicitation through e-mail.

I called T-Mobile Customer Care to ask whether I could receive credit (i.e., not be charged) for that text message, since it was spam. The representative I spoke with said that she would not be able to help me in that regard but that I should sign up with the Do Not Call registry to prevent such occurrences in the future. I informed her that I HAVE signed up with the registry, and she was appalled that I would still be having this problem. Her other suggestion was to reply to the text message with the word “stop.”

My husband was not satisfied with this response, so he called back and spoke with someone else who was a bit more helpful with regard to credit. The rep he spoke with agreed to give us 30 free text messages each, which was more than fair. However, she, too, suggested replying to the text message with “stop.”

Now, forgive me if I’m wrong about this, but isn’t the cardinal rule of spam management, “Thou shall not give spammers the time of day by asking them to stop spamming you”? Won’t texting these people back just make things worse? Why is T-Mobile encouraging this behavior? My husband tried pointing this out to the rep he spoke with, but all she would say in response is, “That’s why we tell you to reply with the word ‘stop.'” That particular representative, at least, did not seem to get the gist of why ANY response is a bad idea.

Again, I am grateful for the free text-messaging credit we were able to secure from T-Mobile, but I am concerned about their policy regarding text spam. Hopefully, if you post this, someone “important” will read it and realize that their current suggestion is no good!

Thanks, Crissy in Honolulu



Edit Your Comment

  1. Buran says:

    Don’t disable text messaging entirely. Just ask for a credit back. Each and every time this happens. Keep a log of why you’re calling, so if they complain that you call support a lot, you’ll have a record of why.

  2. wring says:

    That’s what a completely inept tmobile CSR told me the first time I complained about these spammers. I got a second CSR though that fixed everything (credited my account, blacklisted spammers). Eventually I had to get a new number because it was just getting worse. Hurrah for recycled numbers! :P

  3. Katharine says:

    I called t-mobile when I recieved a very graphic (porno) picture as a text message. They credited me and blocked incoming text messages that came as emails. They didn’t suggest replying and I would have laughed at the suggestion.

    They sound like they are telling 2 year olds to respond using their words not by hitting. Well nothing less than “hitting” will stop the spammers.

  4. Ola says:

    Um, wow. I just received an almost exact copy of that spam message yesterday. I couldn’t get the spammer’s number though – any tips on how to get this? Unfortunately I deleted it, not knowing what else to do. Maybe I should have kept it to use as evidence?

    And the FCC’s advice on text spamming is terrible.

  5. acambras says:


    Hah! Then they’ll probably pull a Sprint, and drop her as a customer for calling customer service too much.

  6. rvancour says:

    I, too, received a spam txt and was told by a TMobile rep to respond with “Stop”. I replied that I thought it would only prove that they reached a working number, to which she replied, “Oh, you’re right” and pointed me to my account page on the web where I could block all incoming email txt messages. It’s more than mildly disappointing that this reply “stop” drivel came from the FCC.

  7. Clobberella says:

    I did a stint at T-Mobile not that long ago. The opt-out thing is T-Mobile’s policy; it has nothing to do with the CSR is question who is only telling you what he/she was told to tell you. You CAN have a number blacklisted if you request it, but the CSR is encouraged not to tell you that when you call. You can also request credit for the charges. What you CAN’T do is have sms blocked altogether; the company won’t allow it because they supposedly need to be able to text you themselves. If you really want to block sms, I don’t know whether it’s actually possible

  8. Clobberella says:

    Sorry, I’ve never posted here before and I managed to hit submit too soon. I was going to say that it’s not possible for the CSR to block SMS through their systems; if it can, in fact, be done, you’re going to have to talk to someone higher up than anyone at a standard call center.

  9. typetive says:

    I had this problem with Verizon a couple of years ago – spam messages that I was paying for with my “no text message” plan. I called and the CSR just requested the address of the messages and then credited me back. Yes, a pain in the ass for a lousy 50 cents, but they did track down whatever it was in the system that was allowing these spammers to get in. (I haven’t had any since.)

  10. Hawk07 says:

    Based upon my experience with T-Mobile, yes even asking for a free text message is too much for them. I’m not at all surprised the first CSR told her she was SOL.

    Truth be told, I’m surprised cell phone companies don’t hire spammers to help them generate extra revenue. Think about it: Each text message costs 15 cents. Times 15 cents by a million customers WITHOUT a txt plan and it equals $150,000 in extra revenue. Fun times.

  11. Sully111 says:

    This happened to me very recently. I called T-Mobile who instantly credited my account with 30 free text messages. They stated there is no way for them to block these since it is illegal for T-Mobile to read them. There other suggestion was to change my phone number if it got worse.

  12. laila says:

    I had this happen to me a few months ago and the TMobile CSR I spoke to credited me back and also blocked the numbers for me without any hassles. Maybe some rep surfing is in order. All the same – text spam is infuriating.

  13. Cowboys_fan says:

    I too worked for t-mob and here’s how the situation goes.
    1) Call and demand a credit from your cellphone company. Tell them that cellphone spamming is illegal and you want to be compensated.

    If you DEMAND a credit from me, you get NOTHING! If I can blacklist I will, if I cannot however, then its your onus to stop it, not mine. Neither I nor t-mob gave your number to these spammers. Tmob has done nothing illegal and thus owes no compensation. I got so sick of customers demanding I compensate them for every inconvenience in their life.

    2) If the problem doesn’t go away, demand a free number change or ask that txt messages be completely disabled.

    Again, do not demand. If you want a free number change for this, you’d better have already filed a police report for harassment. Text messages CANNOT be disabled from t-mob, or you will be charged minutes for your messages, or $0.40/msg instead of $0.15 if in minute overage. They simply CANNOT be disabled.

    The best advice is to ask for 10 or 20 bonus sms from them, most reps will give it to you for this reason. Ask them to backdate to eat up any charges already incurred this cycle. Use those to try to stop the messages. Otherwise, your SOL because there really is nothing else they can do to help. You probably won’t get credits for this unless you threaten to cancel, but the people around here want accounts cancelled upon request so if they had their way, that wouldn’t work either.

  14. any such name says:

    I got that text last night as well, around 7pm CST or so. Creeeeeeeepy. I wonder what we all have in common.

  15. stopNgoBeau says:

    I have sort of the same problem, except that its with a certain friend who continually sends me SMS messages even though I asked him not to. Within five minutes of me giving him my new T-Mobile number, he sent me a messages, and he was only five feet away.

    I called T-Mobile and asked if they could disable SMS. The CSR told me it wasn’t possible, but she did suggest that I respond with STOP or even go far as put vulgar language in my response. In order to do that, she gave me 30 free messages that would expire in 90 days.

    Not the solution that I had asked for, but its better than nothing.

    On a side note, the CSRs at T-Mobile that I have encountered have been so much nicer than Cingular (who I am dropping in August) that I’m almost always happen even when they can’t fully satisfy me.

  16. Buran says:

    @acambras: In which case you have every right to complain about them to the BBB, FCC (if appropriate), etc. Sprint claims they did it because people were trying to scam free service from them. In this case, they’re not trying to scam free service, just not have to pay for something illegal.

  17. Buran says:

    @Cowboys_fan: That’s not entirely true. They can be disabled – Mom was offered that option when she once thought she had problems (although I was able to explain to her that the ones T-Mobile snds are free). I’m glad she didn’t do it, though, I like to occasionally send her “I’m on the way” messages when I head to our weekly dinner, but she knows that I don’t do it often because it does cost her a little bit on her prepaid plan. It still costs her less than a phone call would, though, I think.

    She hasn’t gotten a spam SMS in a long time now, though.

  18. wring says:

    @Cowboys_fan: One CSR actually volunteered to change my number without a fee. You seem to drive a hard bargain with your customers.

  19. Landru says:

    I got that text message too, but on Cingular.

  20. Cowboys_fan says:

    @Buran: As a former csr with experience(alot are quite stupid), if we disabled text, and somebody sent you one, or you sent one, the message would go through and you would in fact get charged in minutes. Now if you have minutes, or its a free weekend plan, etc, then there’s no charge, but if you’re over, then its the same overage rate(usually $0.40/min). Reps may say different, and turn it off for you, but that will not stop the messages. They don’t know what they are doing. I have had to give credits because reps did this, then customers were billed, and obviously pissed.

    @wring: Waiving the fee needs supervisor approval and only are allowed in specific circumstances. Be glad it was offered free, but don’t expect it, that rep would be in trouble if found out. Also, be wary of reps promising something like that, then not coming through, nor leaving a note. Now the # is changed, you’re charged $15.00, and you’re screwed. I had to constantly fix problems like that. Yes I did drive a hard bargain, but I only followed policy, the ones who don’t are most likely new.
    The problem really is that for every honest person here wanting credit for this reason, there’s literally 10 more who try this, or any excuse to get credits. If most people were honest, there would be no problems.
    I equate this to somebody constantly calling and harrassing you. Its not the fault of the carrier, its a police matter.

  21. tregra says:

    I received a few SPAM text messages a few days ago (all from AOL IM 265060), so I called CS and got the “canned scripted message” of “There’s nothing we can do… Blah, blah blah”.

    So I did some searching online and found this:


    Stop Receiving Messages (Opt-Out)

    If you want to stop receiving messages from AOL and AIM users, follow these steps:
    – Open a new text message.
    – Type the word “Out” in the body of the message.
    – Send the message to the short code for the AIM Welcome feature:
    Alltel 265019
    Cingular Wireless 265019
    Cricket 265019
    T-Mobile 265019
    Verizon Wireless 265019

    You will receive a message confirming that you have opted-out and will no longer receive messages from AOL and AIM users.

    I sent the message and a few moments later, I received “AIM: You have opted out of receiving messages from AOL IM that are addressed to your phone number…” (from 265019).

  22. acambras says:

    I equate this to somebody constantly calling and harrassing you. Its not the fault of the carrier, its a police matter.

    Somehow I don’t see calling the police to complain that I’m being textspammed, especially if I don’t know where the texts are coming from. Even if I do know, what’s my town police department supposed to do if some spammer is texting me from Nigeria?

    In which case you have every right to complain about them to the BBB, FCC (if appropriate), etc.
    I gotta tell ya, I find the BBB pretty useless. And I don’t think the FCC would be helpful — hell, they’re telling you to respond to the spammers, which, as others have pointed out, is a terrible idea (lets the spammers know that your # is valid and ready for more spam).

  23. Cowboys_fan says:

    I don’t know the answer on how to stop spam. Tmob can block email, and 3rd party providers charging above and beyond sms(ie text JOKE to ##### can be blocked on their end, me sending you sms from my phone{and blocking caller id obviously} cannot be stopped). I just don’t see the onus being solely on the carrier. I think we all, customers, carriers, internet providers, and the government have to work together somehow.
    As a disclaimer, anything I said may not necessarily be true any longer as t-mob policy changes frequently and I have not worked there since Oct. However Howard Forums [www.howardforums.com] has a great online forum for customers and employees alike, for all carriers, and really all technology. It is a great place to ask employees questions where they are free from work rules and can offer the best advice. They even have an “Ask the employee” thread. I helped many customers from there.

  24. digitalgimpus says:

    Last I checked, both Verizon and Cingular “can’t” (read: won’t) disable text messaging. If the feature is on the phone, it’s always available regardless. Same seems to goes for Cingular’s mobile internet access. They make it 1 button away (an easy one to hit by accident). Workaround for that is to go into the configs and enter bad data so it can’t successfully connect.

    Personally, I wouldn’t be too shocked if the reason they don’t crack down on the spam problem is because they profit from it. I’d bet they provide credits to 0.01% of spam txt’s sent to their network since most don’t bother/know to ask.

  25. Crissy in Honolulu says:

    I don’t know what The Real Solution to the spam problem is, but I’m not interested in blocking text messages that are generated via e-mail. People have perfectly legitimate reasons to send perfectly legitimate text messages via e-mail; people who don’t have free outgoing texting on their plans, for example, can text others this way.

    I’m not trying to cause trouble for T-Mobile here. I’m just saying that this is worse than receiving spam over e-mail because e-mail is free, and also that we shouldn’t be advised to REPLY to these entitities. As long as texting isn’t free for all, we shouldn’t have to pay for incoming spam texts, as they are completely out of our control.

  26. skapunk84 says:

    I receive an SMS spam once in a while, but rarely. I did get one the other day, but I think the last one I got before that was probably a year ago. I’m very careful about who I provide with my mobile number.

    I reported them to the FCC anyway. :-D

  27. DadCooks says:

    T-Mobile’s customer service has deterioated a lot in the past year–they have gone from excellent to just like all the others–lower than poor.

    I am have dealt with T-Mobile on this recent spam issue and am getting no satisfaction (a few 15-cent credits would save them a lot of money and garner some goodwill). BTW, I have not “demanded” anything or lost my temper, yet.

    IMHO, I suspect a disgruntled T-Mobile employee has “sold” a bunch of numbers to a spammer. This rash of spam to T-Mobile numbers is just to coincidental.

  28. Psqunq says:

    I’m a T-Mobile CSR. This rep probably confused spam email with those third party services like Jamster and DadaMobile. THOSE you send the message “STOP” and it’ll stop that service. To stop receiving email as sms, you login to the my t-mobile site, click on communication tools, over on the right, click “create spam/keyword filters,” and choose “block all email to sms” or somesuch.

    As for how they get the numbers, could be a dictionary attack. Numbers are not that difficult to garner, folks. They’re ten digits. Pick an area code and any seven after it, starting with the number 2, like 4152#####1, 4152#####2, etc. Slap a domain name on the end of it, like vtext.com (verizon) or tmomail.net, and fire away and hope it hits someone’s phone.

  29. informer says:

    @Cowboys_fan: Are you certain about the messages being pulled from your minute pool? Because I would love this. I always have a hundred or so minutes left over at the end of the month, and I never text enough to make it worth going with one of the text messaging plans. So if I could have the few texts I do send pulled from my minutes, that would save me a couple dollars every month. How can I go about getting my text messages “disabled” in this manner?

  30. Cowboys_fan says:

    @informer: It was certainly true as of last Oct. when I quit. I worked there over 2 years so I know some facts. Due to how the system is built, I would have to say it is still most probably true today and always will be. Now how you go about doing it? It was certainly policy to never do that, however I learned of the rule only after being caught, so it is obscure. The only way is to keep calling back until you get a new rep to do it, assuming they do it right ;-). Most will say they’re not allowed b/c as posted, they can’t msg you. There’s another catch though. It is an included feature. So if you change your rate plan or your number, because it is an automatic feature, it usually turns itself back on, and you’d have to call again. The only person who can turn it off is a rep over the phone, not a dealer, or on the internet, etc. If they don’t know how, tell them to “go into the features tab and exclude the smo and/or smt feature”(short message outgoing/short message terminating)
    Each text, in or out, would charge you 1 minute.

  31. Clobberella says:

    I don’t think you can do that anymore. They “upgraded” the system in Nov. or Dec. and I think that was one of the things they “fixed.” If you try to exclude smt/smo, you’ll get an error message and you can’t save any changes until you include them again. Of course, I quit this past January, so it’s entirely possible it’s changed yet again. :)

  32. it5five says:

    I get at least 3 spam text messages a day. I’ve gotten the one in the article at least twice now.

  33. missdona says:

    My husband left T-Mobile over this very issue.

    Tech support blocked the server number on his handset, so incoming messages would not appear, but he would still be billed for them. And then they would give him a hard time about crediting him, for messages he never received.

  34. Cowboys_fan says:

    I stand corrected. This is one of the weakest ways to pull one over on them anyways, I’m better at helping cancel, or get credits. I’ve always considered calling, and giving my old rep ID, just to see what I can still do :p

  35. leannza1 says:

    I have an odd situation: I am receiving a text message once a day with two symbols in it. That’s it–just two symbols. There is no reply to address. What do I do in this situation? AT&T has blocked text messaging on my phone temporarily for a week, but I am not sure if that will help or not. They said they can’t block a source when they don’t know where it’s coming from, so it looks as though my options are to either keep receiving this message every day, or block texting entirely (which I really don’t want to do).

  36. SoFlaSnowMan says:

    There is something very wrong here with T-Mobile’s (and apparently other’s) text message policies.

    I am a T-Mobile subscriber who does not use text messaging and, consequently, have no text messaging plan. As a result, I am forced to pay for each text message I receive. Each month I receive 2 or 3, unsolicited, text messages either from spammers or individuals who obviously sent the message to the wrong number.

    There is absolutely no way for me to control (or eliminate) these charges. What other service allows a third party to generate charges on your behalf?

    As these charges never seem to amount to more than $1 in any given month, I have never bothered to complain except for the first month when I asked if I could turn off text messaging completely and was told that it was mandatory (their word) because T-Mobile used text messaging to communicate with me.

    They did suggest that I change my phone’s email address from phoneno@tmomail.net to something which could not be readily guessed. This appears to have mitigated the spam.

    See T-Mobile’s message, below, for how to change your phone’s email address (assuming you are a T-Mobile subscriber).

    from Customer Care
    to *******@pobox.com
    date Feb 1, 2007 11:15 AM
    subject Re: Products and Services.TextMessaging (KMM52076I14910L0KM)
    mailed-by bounce2.pobox.com

    Dear Michael *******,

    Thank you for contacting T-Mobile with your questions. My name is
    Yvonne and I am here to help with questions regarding text messaging.
    We value your business!

    I understand you would like to know if there is a way to filter or block
    unwanted incoming messages from being delivered to your handset so that
    you are not charged. I know it is important to ensure that you do not
    receive charges for unsolicited or unwanted text messages. I will be
    more than happy to help you with this today!

    I regret to inform you that there is not a way for us to disable
    incoming messages to your handset. The incoming messaging feature is
    mandatory and can not be removed from your account due to system
    requirements. This feature is used for day to day services like your
    voicemail and billing notifications, it is also how over-the-air updates
    are delivered. These are crucial system and network updates. I do
    apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause you.

    Upon review of your account, I would like to note that I see the
    messagesyou have been receiving are being delivered via our email to
    phone service. This means that you are able to set up email filters
    online via My T-Mobile.com to help you block unwanted email messages
    from being delivered to your phone. In order to set these filters up,
    please use the following steps:

    1. Sign into our website at http://www.t-mobile.com with the mobile number of
    the phone you wish to add/edit filters on.
    2. Click on “Communication Tools”.
    3. Under the “Resources” section on the right hand side of the screen,
    click on “Create Spam & Key Word Filters”.
    4. Click on “Create Filter” to add a new filter, or “Edit Filter” to
    edit an already existing filter, or “Delete Filter” to remove an
    existing filter.
    5. Based on the spam/unwanted messages you are receiving, tailor your
    filters to suit your needs.

    Another way to help ensure that you do not receive unwanted messages to
    your handset, Michael, is by changing the alias/email address currently
    associated with your mobile number. When you activate services, your
    email address automatically defaults to yourmobile#@tmomail.net. To
    change this to a personalized address, please use the following steps:

    1. Log into My T-Mobile.com
    2. Click on Communication Tools
    3. In the Resources section on the right hand side of the page, click on
    Change my phone email address
    4. In the New Email address field, enter the new nickname/alias you wish
    to have (do not include spaces, dashes, or hyphens)
    5. Click on Update to save your changes

    Please remember that the filters and change of email address will only
    affect incoming messages that are being sent to you via email. This
    will not affect text messages that are sent directly to your mobile

    I hope that the information I have provided you with today, Michael,
    assists you with avoiding any further unwanted text messages to your

    If you require further assistance, or if I can provide more information
    on our plans and services, please reply back to this e-mail noting Case
    # 9102 or you can call Customer Care at 1-800-937-8997 (or dial 611 from
    your handset and press SEND). Customer Care representatives are
    available to assist you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

    Thank you, Michael for allowing me the opportunity to assist you with
    your questions today. It has been my pleasure providing you, a valued
    new customer, with T-Mobile’s World Class service.


    Yvonne M – 7208999
    Customer Care Specialist
    T-Mobile USA

  37. DS28 says:

    You should also do a whois lookup and contact the server/ISP for the company who spammed you. A lot of the times, they’re using mass distribution lists that are either 1) entirely prohibited by the company they get service from, or 2) against TOS because they’re unsolicited/commercial in nature.

    Whois will provide the contact information for the ISP/server usually, or at least give you a start. Additonally, most of the records provide the personal phone number of the goon behind such operations, and if you give them a call to complain, they’ll probably be mighty caught-off guard.

    More importantly, use this info to call the ISP/server and complain. I did this once (only have received 1 spam text), and they were very happy to hear from me and probably took action against the spammer’s account.

    Hey Consumerist, how about a refresher on the utility of Whois searches? Definitely a valuable asset for consumers

  38. Charles Duffy says:

    @raccettura: A rep at the local Cingular store turned off SMS and data for my phones on request, such that they aren’t accessible even when the incur-data-charges button is pushed by mistake.

  39. JoeWaiver says:

    I went toe-to-toe with T-Mo on this very issue.

    “We’ve given you goodwill credits on this issue every month for the past five months, we won’t credit you again.”

    The rep kept saying, “if someone is harassing you, you need to call the police.” My phone bill always has between $1 and $3 in text msg spam. T-mo thinks this will just go away? Or moreover, that I will just go away?

    They did end up giving me the bonus SMS but I’ll have to call in again when those run out. And believe me, I’ll push a $1 charge to arbitration if their best answer is to call the cops.

  40. networkguru says:

    I have been getting same spam text messages and reps at tmobile suggested i reply to this spam.
    I told them and even they confirmed it is coming from unknown source.
    here is the spam i got

    cqjdqfvy795265:(using AOL IM)
    Trading alert for friday

    Also i don’t know how many people have faced this, but i have been even charged for the pictures i have taken using my phone, i called tmobile today and asked them about it and they told me it was tmobile pictures website thats where your pictures go to.Here is what i came to know today, every time i take a picture using a tmobile phone, it saves on my phone and then pops up a message SEND TO MY ALBUMS? There is absolutely nowhere it says that it’s going to charge me 0.15 cents for pic i take.
    So i told them there is no ALERT or a WARNING MESSAGE that i am being charged when a picture is “Send to: My Albums? ”
    the phone gives me two options “OPTIONS MENU” and “YES”
    So any normal user would think, if i hit yes, the picture is saved locally on the phone and not gone to some website.

    To prove my point i told tmobile that if i had intentions or knew about this service i would have used it from the beginning.
    And there are better ways of sharing pictures than using TMOBILE pictures, connect the phone to the PC and upload them picasa free of charge.

    I kept on arguing and they kept on talking about the contract terms.

    Their customer service is absolutely pathetic.

    I even asked them about enhancement on this feature where the phone just saves the pictures and you can later go and do whatever you like.

    The last rep i spoke to, he even hung up on me.

    I have complained to the Michigan Attorney General’s office and faxed a complaint to the T mobile consumer relations.


    SO Where else should i complain ? I am thinking about emailing the CEO’s office.