4.5 Billion Spam Texts Sent To U.S. Cellphones Last Year

If you think you’ve seen an uptick in the number of spam texts showing up on your wireless phone in recent months, you’re not crazy. A new report claims that the number of those unwanted messages jumped 45% last year, totaling 4.5 billion texts in the U.S. alone.

Compared to autodialing phones from a landline, it’s relatively inexpensive and difficult to track text-based spam. All that’s needed is a prepaid phone and a low-cost unlimited text plan to go with it. From there, an autodialer takes over, sending out oodles of texts — for nonexistent offerings like free iPads, gift cards or cash — from a source that is not easily identified.

While most of us delete these texts immediately, all it takes for the spammer to install malware on a phone is for the recipient to click on the link.

Analysts tell Bloomberg that it likely costs wireless providers anywhere from $5 to $50 every time these companies have to resolve a complaint resulting from text spamming, which translates into huge costs even if only a fraction of a percent of users fall victim to spammers.

Unfortunately, not enough people are letting the federal government know about the problem. The Federal Trade Commission says it received around 2,600 complaints about text spam in 2011. But AT&T says it knows of one group of spammers responsible for more than 20 million violations.

Wireless industry group CTIA says that carriers are currently prepping to unveil a collaborative effort to fight text spam later this year.

In the meantime, if you want to let the FTC know exactly how pervasive this problem is, file a complaint HERE or call 1 877 FTC HELP.

Mobile Spam Texts Hit 4.5 Billion Raising Consumer Ire [Bloomberg]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Dr.Wang says:

    and the cell phone carriers love ’em because they make a profit from them too!

    • Cat says:

      I think it’s outrageous that US carriers “double dip” on cell phone calls and texts. In most other countries, the calling party pays.

      • Akanbe says:

        I think it’s outrageous that text messages aren’t included for free if you buy one of their overpriced data plans.

        • Dr.Wang says:

          You don’t have to use the cellular providers texting plans. There are simple apps that use your data bandwidth to send and receive text messages without any texting plan from the carrier. That’s what I do, but I still get spam texts. I need to see if AT&T will block all incoming texts on my number.

    • jiubreyn says:

      Actually, AT&T has started to collect these messages and the phone numbers they’re coming from. (I’m just as surprised to hear abut this coming from AT&T.) You just forward the message to SPAM (7726). You will get a reply message thanking you in addition to a request to forward the phone number the text came from.

  2. Cat says:

    “4.5 Billion Spam Texts Sent To U.S. Cellphones Last Year” – most of them to my cell phone.

  3. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    Spammers should be burned at the stake.

  4. SmokeyBacon says:

    I used to file complaints for spam texts but nothing is ever done about them – or at least that is my guess since I still get them and spam calls too.

  5. Guppy06 says:

    “totaling 4.5 billion texts in the U.S. alone”

    And with each of those messages costing between 5¬¢ and 25¬¢ for the sender and the recipient, we can see why the mobile phone companies aren’t in any real hurry to “take it seriously.”

    • bikeoid says:

      Exactly – I pay $0.20 to receive each one of these!

      • alana0j says:

        and if I were you I’d call my provider each and every time you get charged for these spam text messages and demand a credit back. Only 20 cents? That’s “only” 20 cents for every text you and every other customer without a texting package has to fork over. I imagine the companies would take things much more seriously if customers would stand up for themselves and refuse to pay for this crap!

  6. homehome says:

    You can put a block on your phone to not receive them. I did it with my phones. It’s changing though, with the malware, now they can by pass that, but most can’t.

    • SecretShopper: pours out a lil' liquor for the homies Wasp & Otter says:

      not if you have a pre 4s iphone: gd thing does everything else but it cant block #’s from the handset.

      • homehome says:

        I know sprint system, you can block all companies from those types of texts or just specific ones. Even the current phones. Verizon and att has something similar.

    • Not Given says:

      I tried to put a text block on my phone. When I kept getting texts I assumed it didn’t work, until I tried to send one myself. They blocked me from sending but no block on receiving.

      • homehome says:

        Whoever did it for u, did it wrong. I would check to see how they have it done and emphasis exactly how you want it done, you’d be surprised at how many ppl mess it up.

  7. nearly_blind says:

    I had a problem about 6 months ago. I started getting a few crank texts a day for 4-5 days from different numbers before I disabled ALL texting with T-mobile (this was the only option available). They were not adverts but random messages, like “Jill, are you coming tonight!” A look on the net said that they could be “feelers” that are used to confirm valid numbers (if you respond). I renabled texting a few months later and its been OK so far. I hardly ever send or get texts (maybe once per month) so I don’t/won’t pay an extra $4-5 mo for unlimted texting. T-mobile does a have number that you can forward SPAM texts to (for free) but it didn’t do any good. The only option they offer is to block ALL texts. And, FYI, when its blocked the sender doesn’t receive any indication that their message failed so any friends who send real texts may be wondering why you never responded.

  8. Cooneymike says:

    I used to diligently file complaints about unwanted commercial span texts, probably 20 times. I never got so much as an acknowledgement from the FTC. When I called they couldn’t find records of me having contacted them until I emailed my saved copies, even then they lost them. One person I got a hold of admits they won’t act in individual complaints but might if there were enough complaints, no matter how flagrant an individual complaint was. Eventually I gave up and did what I think everyone else does which is just delete them. The FTC CANNOT lay this on the feet of the reporting public. Just as they desire, if they ignore their phones and emails long enough we will stop bothering them.

    • smartaz says:

      FTC rarely looks at complaints on a individual level. I believe it says so when you file a complaint with them. What they theoretically are supposed to do is collect all the complaint data (i.e. about certain companies like Paypal). If they receive a lot of complaints, then they will, again theoretically, take action.

  9. Not Given says:

    I got the iPad one at 4am and I did complain about it.

  10. axolotl says:

    If you think about it though.. what is spam anyway? Nobody really knows, and that’s why I lost 20 pounds in 3 days with one simple amputation click here to find out more!

  11. Travis Tubbs says:

    I wonder if forwarding these spam text messages to your carrier’s SPAM (7726) account, do they in turn report it to the FTC or do we still have to do that ourselves?

    • jiubreyn says:

      That’s a great question. I think at the very least they’re working the block those numbers.

  12. BorkBorkBork says:

    Be careful where you post your phone number as well. I’ve listed some items on Craigslist with my cell number attached and have received text spam from that.

    Luckily, I only post my Google Voice # which can easily block numbers from calling/texting.

    • I just blue myself says:

      I also use my Google Voice number any time I have to enter in a phone number online. I only need to check it about once a day for missed calls but I don’t get disturbed from those “You just won an Ipad 2!!!!!!!!!!” text messages.

  13. chizu says:

    I’ve been getting more and more spam text messages lately and it’s beyond frustrating. Sometimes they come at wee hours, like 3 in the morning, or 7am.

    There’s actually another one that I’ll have to call Tmo about. It’s something call lovetips.com (something like that), what happens is, you get a message about how you could text back to subscribe to their services (get 3 messages per week about love!). Most people would ignore it (which I did), and within 3 minutes, you’ll get another message telling you that you subscribed to their services and you’ll be charged $9.99 per month.

    I went online and did a little research on these guys, apparently a lot of people went on months without realising they were charged the $9.99 because you don’t actually get these “love tips”. And when you think you ignored the initial message they wouldn’t sign you up automatically, but they do. Watch out for these spams.

  14. alexwade says:

    The fundamental problem is that spammers still do what they do because IT WORKS! People are stupid enough to actually click on links and order Canadian drugs. People still fall victim to phising attacks. People still click on links they think will show some outrageous video. If it didn’t work, spam would die. Until then, ain’t nothing going to stop it.

  15. Lyn Torden says:

    Browser FAIL … if it does more than just render HTML and CSS from a website, and has function calls for Javascript and Flash to access more than just the screen.

  16. Malik says:

    Is this primarily a smart-phone issue? I have ahd a cell phone for years and never once got a spam text message.

    Now, I am stingy with my number. I give it to friends and work contacts only. I do not indulge in any services that rely on my cell phone number (send a ringtone to your phone, etc)

    I just want to know how I am avoiding it so I can keep it up

  17. dangermike says:

    “The Federal Trade Commission says it received around 2,600 complaints about text spam in 2011.”

    The last couple of times I raised complaints, I received letters saying nothing could or would be done.

    “But AT&T says it knows of one group of spammers responsible for more than 20 million violations.”

    And? They just let them?

  18. cbutler says:

    I sent Comsumerist information about this how if you get random facts from a text and don’t reply back “Stop” it will bill your phone bill $10 each time. It’s a total scam. when I called the phone company out they were all too quick to reimburse me on it. How do thy allow that crap in the first place?

  19. Boo LaRue says:

    Don’t believe that Google Voice numbers will protect you from this because they won’t. Just two days ago I received one through my Google voice number, which is only used for business matters.

  20. FedoraFetish says:

    4.5 billion spam texts and only 2,600 people (at most) sent in a complaint? I find that hard to believe. I sent in a complaint the first time I got spammed, but now I get them so frequently that I don’t bother anymore.