News & Stories

Cell Phone Privacy Could Make A Comeback

The Feds Crack Down On Mobile Spam That Led To Identity Theft

One of the joys of having a cell phone is the extra level of privacy for your communications. You don’t get those calls from ‘Rachel’. You know the gal—the one from Cardmember Services who disrupts dinner nightly by phoning your landline with bogus offers to lower your credit card interest rate? Unlike landlines, mobile phone lines enjoy some extra protections against robocallers. At least that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Scammers are banned from using the autodial approach to contact cell phone users. It’s a federal legal protection that probably dates back to the era when every cell call generated a charge on your bill. It’s also illegal to send commercial email messages to wireless devices without prior permission. Mobile numbers are not supposed to be abused in this manner but that hasn’t stopped scammers; the problem of unsolicited text messaging has mushroomed. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is out to restore a degree of privacy to your phone by turning the tables on marketers who dish up spam.

Today the FTC announced legal actions against 29 different defendants believed to be behind a whopping 180 million illegal spam texts. The wording usually offers a great deal or a ‘free gift card’. Just click this link. Consumers who clicked on text links found themselves caught in what FTC called, “A confusing and elaborate process that required them to provide sensitive personal information, apply for credit or pay to subscribe to services” to access the ‘free’ offer.

"Today's announcement says ‘game over’ to the major league scam artists behind millions of spam texts," said Charles A. Harwood, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.  "The FTC is committed to rooting out this deception and stopping it.  For consumers who find spam texts on their phones, delete them, immediately. The offers are, in a word, garbage."

That ‘garbage’ is really a triple threat. It caused far too many recipients to boost their risk of identity theft by providing lots of personal data to unknown website operators. In some cases, it infected individual devices with malware and there’s no telling who bought access to the personal identifying information (PII) some of the sites required of folks eager to claim their ‘free’ gift. FTC hopes this massive effort to put text spammers out of business will break the vicious cycle; it could even restore a bit of privacy and civility to the mobile communications world.

The defendants are charged with sending the texts to obtain payments from the ‘free’ gift website operators who in turn were paid by any businesses who gained customers or subscribers through the bogus multi-level offers.