You just walked in the front door when you hear a familiar…
You look down at your phone to see a new message. But, it’s from a number you have never seen before…
…the message reads:
“WIN AN IPHONE X!
Confirm your entry to the competition by replying with “X.”
Don’t want to receive this message again? Unsubscribe with the word “Stop.”
You probably have no idea how they got your number, but realizing it is spam, you think of replying “stop.”
Here’s the first reason why you should not reply: The best case scenario is that this is a legitimate business, sending you a genuine offer.
Even then it is likely illegal according to the Telephone Consumers Protection Act, TCPA, but we will get to that later.
In this case, if you reply “Stop,” they would be legally obligated to stop.
However, the sender could also be someone with more nefarious intentions…
Fraud artists search the internet for any mobile phone numbers that suit their criteria.
When they do find one, they are still not sure whether the phone number is valid…
…because people tend to change numbers all the time.
There is only one way to find out if a phone number is in use:
To see if you get a reply when you call or text.
So they use crafty messages that encourage any response.
Once you reply:
(Regardless whether it is a positive or negative response)
They know that your number is in the hands of a living, breathing human (with a bank account and possibly a credit card).
The scammers will start to try a myriad of tactics to do one or more of the following:
Obtain your sensitive personal information
Steal your identity
Scam you out of your money
Hack your phone
Replying “unsubscribe” or “stop” will put you ON their priority list to send you MORE text messages – from perhaps seemingly different numbers.
That is the first reason why it is not a good idea to reply.
(more about that a little later)
On the other hand, if you are “lucky”…
Then the message is just a legitimate, yet completely unsolicited, junk message.
JUNK TEXT MESSAGES
Although they may seem similar…
Unwanted junk messages will look slightly different than scam text messages.
Whereas scammers have mischievous intentions:
Real companies legitimately want you to buy something from their business.
If Toyland is having a Rubik’s cube sale, or if AMC is launching a new life insurance policy they feel you should know about…
…They might want to contact you.
If you did not explicitly approve any contact from the company in writing, it is still strictly illegal for them to do so, according to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
This law stops businesses from calling you or sending you unsolicited automated messages for marketing reasons.
Without your express prior written consent, nobody may send you automated text messages of any kind.
(Of course, there are exceptions to the rule.)
In particular,time-sensitive, situations where communication is necessary. For example delivery reminders i.e.
“Your package will arrive between 9am-12pm tomorrow, August 5th, 2018.”
Alternatively, when confirming an appointment:
“Reminder: Your appointment with Dr. Rosen is at 10 am today.”
Additionally, they CAN contact you in case of true emergencies, like in the case of a countrywide hurricane warning.
All of the messages we are talking about have one thing in common:
They are sent using an automatic system.
That means that there is nobody personally typing a text message to each person, telling them about Rubik’s cubes and hurricanes. Automatic dialing and texting systems are doing it for them. However, when misused, these are also illegal according to the TCPA.
I will explain:
AUTOMATED DIALING & TEXTING SYSTEMS (AKA. AUTO DIALERS)
Automated dialing systems are equipment, which can store or find phone numbers to be contacted using a random sequence. Furthermore, it is all done without any intervention from an individual like you, or me.
This is what everyday spammers and junk message senders use to contact you.
They are illegal when used for evil (aka contacting people without express prior written content).
The moment a company, or individual, uses an automated dialing or texting machine to contact your phone (or even leave you a voicemail) without your consent, they are in breach of Telephone Consumers Protection Act.
The penalty for doing so is high.
Victims of this behavior, some of which get dozens of unwanted junk messages or calls within the span of a few months, can get up to $1,500 in damages from the sender – for each time the sender contacted them!
When automated dialing systems are used to send thousands of text messages a day, this can cost a company millions of dollars in fines.
Yet it happens every day.
Sometimes, simply due to ignorance. However, there are many whose negligence is to blame. A further problem that aggravates the issue is the availability of auto dialers.
A few years ago, auto dialers were physical machines.
Nowadays, anyone with a laptop can download automated dialing system software.
(However, there are still physical machines in use too)
A quick search on Google for “automated text message software” comes back with over 776,000 results in less than a second.
“Automated phone dialing software” is even worse, 3.4 million, and quicker too!
The accessibility makes it easy and quick for unethical marketers to start sending junk messages.
To make those annoying automated robot-voice sales calls (read more about that – Here).
Keep in mind, auto-dialers aren’t the only thing you need to think about:
Some people also find ways to disguise their call or text to make them look like they are contacting you from a trusted source, using something called “spoofing.”
Spoofing is when a caller or sender makes it look like they are contacting you from somewhere different.
Here’s what I mean:
One day you receive a text message from your bank. Everything seems normal. Your phone even says that the message is from CITIBANK.
However, upon looking at the text, you become concerned.
You certainly didn’t send money to Nigeria! That sounds like a SCAM!
So you call the number to get to the bottom of it.
The friendly customer service rep explains the transaction and checks if perhaps your card information was stolen.
Next, the friendly customer service rep tells you that a new card is on the way and not to worry.Furthermore, they assure you that the fraudulent Nigerian transaction has been refunded into the account connected to the card you gave them over the phone.
You hang up feeling relieved knowing you did not send money to Nigeria…
… Until you start to wonder why a bank clerk would need your full debit card details.
A little wary, you go to your online banking account. POOF! Your account is as clean as the day you opened it.
(And nothing about a Nigerian transaction)
Think it is far-fetched? It happens.
A woman, just last year, reportedly lost a $100,000 inheritance to a scammer using this exact method.
Here’s how it is done:
A scammer sends text messages which look like they are being sent by the official Citibank Customer Center (this practice is known as “spoofing”).
Then, they put a phone number they have access to, at the bottom of the text.
One friendly chat later, and they have all your money.
If you are wondering whether this is illegal, it indeed is.
There you go:
Another reason why you should be extra careful when replying to a suspicious text message or calling a number sent to you in a text message.
(Even if it seems to be from a legitimate party.)
Always do your own independent research. For example, use Google to verify official office phone numbers.
If you do receive a suspicious message or even a “spam” or “junk” text, don’t delete them. You may need them as evidence.
So, now that you know why NOT to reply to junk, spam, or suspicious messages…
Now, let’s talk about:
THE 3 THINGS YOU SHOULD DO WHEN YOU GET A JUNK, SPAM, OR SUSPICIOUS TEXTS
As experienced TCPA lawyers, we talk with many people who have been harassed by junk text messages and automated phone calls.
We give them the same advice I am about to share with you.
First, if you are being harassed by unsolicited marketing messages:
1. SAVE THE MESSAGES
Most people will naturally click the “trash” button every time they see junk or spam.
Unbeknownst to them,
They are throwing away the one thing that could help solve the problem.
Remember, junk and spam text messages are illegal.
Every unsolicited message you receive is evidence as the victim of an offense.
You would not throw away surveillance footage of a thief stealing, would you? For the same reasons, you should save any junk messages for later reference.
Without the text messages as proof, it is much harder to fight back if you choose to do so.
2. REPORT THE MESSAGE
After saving the text message, the first thing you should do is report the message as spam to the FTC. The FTC actively investigates all spam and junk message claims brought to them.
Reporting a text as spam is easy too.
Once you receive an unsolicited marketing text message…
…forward it to 7726 (which spells our SPAM on your keypad)
This sends it straight to the FTC. As soon as they receive the reported spam message from you, it is entered into a database for further investigation.
If the sender is found to be sending automated unsolicited marketing messages, they will pursue the issue further.
Btw, don’t worry.
Forwarding a message to the FTC is not charged standard text message rates. It is free.
Tip: It also helps to add your number to the “Do Not Call” Registry.
3. CALL YOUR LAWYER
You may not think receiving junk messages in your inbox is a big enough problem for which to get your lawyer involved… but it is.
If you are receiving annoying unsolicited junk marketing texts:
It is in your full legal right to take action against the person or organization doing so. (Wouldn’t it be nice if junk email was the same?)
Also, according to the TCPA:
Unless they are contacting you for emergency purposes…
…a plaintiff (you) can claim damages starting at $500 per junk text message received. This can increase up to $1,500 per message received – depending on the severity of the offense.
That is another reason why you should not trash those texts.
Let’s say; you have proof that you received a dozen unsolicited marketing text messages from an organization.
If so, you could potentially claim $6,000 – $18,000 in damages for the inconvenience.
The good thing about legal action is that it is taken seriously by the defendant.
Once a company is sued for violating the TCPA, it is far less likely to continue sending unwanted marketing messages to you, or anyone else.
Taking legal action helps reduce the amount of spam in the world.
A CONCLUSION OF JUNK TEXT “DOS AND DON’TS”
Let’s end today with a quick summary of junk message “Do’s and Don’ts” to keep you safe from digital predatory behavior and give you the tools to fight back.
Don’t reply to junk or spam text messages.
Replying to spammers, even by saying the word “stop,” shows them the phone number is valid. In fact, any reply encourages future contact.
Do report junk and spam texts.
If you receive a suspicious or spam message, forward it to 7726 (SPAM). This way your carrier will start an investigation (messages sent to 7726 are free).
Don’t delete junk text messages.
Junk and spam messages are illegal. Save all unsolicited text messages, as they are considered evidence in case you wish to pursue legal action in the future.