Science and TechData Privacy and Cybersecurity


Lots Of Spam Texts, Little Action To Stop Them

A Newsy analysis of FCC complaints reveals how spammers are using text messages as a new tool. Why isn't the FCC doing more to stop them?
Posted at 3:34 PM, Aug 17, 2022

Dejeuné Harris reads some of the robotext messages bombarding her phone.

"The account status is lost ... Your renewable payment failed," she said. "I was like 'Oh my gosh, I missed a package.'"

Harris will often interrupt her work as a personal stylist to suss out whether the text is from a client or a con artist. 

"They have been a nightmare, to say it kindly," she said. 

A growing, national nightmare: Complaints to the FCC about unwanted text messages eclipsed 15,000 last year, according to Newsy's data analysis.

Considering some of the phone numbers people across America have complained about, one thing you notice is that there are tens of thousands of different numbers blowing up phones with unwanted text messages. 

The one number flagged most widely nationwide isn't a real number at all. It shows up on caller ID as a bunch of zeros. Many of the other phone numbers have inactive area codes.

"If somebody is hiding their identity or posing as somebody else, then right from the start, you know that there's trouble," U.S. Public Interest Research Group Consumer Watchdog Teresa Murray said. 

Newsy found the most frequent complaints relate to political robotexts, along with messages about prizes won, mortgage and payday loans, prescription drugs and health insurance. 

While some robotexts are legitimate, many are schemes to get your personal information or your money. 

"Some of them are, you know, really kind of scary and legitimate looking," Murray continued.

It's SMS phishing, known as "smishing." Some may be from a real person, like wrong number spam texts. 

While Newsy was working on this story, investigative reporter Patrick Terpstra got a text from a number he did not recognize. It just said "Hi."

Terpstra responded, asking, "Who is this?" The person replied, "This is Annie... Maybe i saved the wrong number."

But texts like these don't end there. 

"Annie" just kept texting Terpstra, asking "What is your name" and telling him "encounter is fate."

"Basically, the bad guys will try anything to get you to respond because guess what? Scammers can't scam if they don't engage with you," Murray said.

Last year, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed requiring wireless providers block illegal robotexts. A similar rule has helped to reduce annoying robocalls.

But the three other FCC commissioners have not yet publicly agreed to adopt a plan of attack for robotexts. When Newsy asked about that, two of the three commissioners declined to answer why not. 

And Commissioner Brendan Carr's office tells us: "He is happy to be working with Chairwoman Rosenworcel on her proposals for ending the scourge of illegal texts and calls."

For now, you can take your own steps to fight junk texts. First, don't respond. Also, block the phone number, and forward the text to 7726. That spells out "s-p-a-m" and will alert your cellphone provider. 

"It's definitely another job, another thing to add to my to-do list to like, decipher through text messages," Harris said — trying to avoid what could be a scheme.