Ting! You’ve received a new message. You put down your shopping bags, dig into your pocket and pull out your smartphone — and then you frown, because it’s from a phone number you’ve never seen in your life, and the message reads: “REAL ROLEX 90% OFF!”
You’ve received spam.
Smartphones have become a major target for indiscriminate marketing campaigns. Sometimes the senders are legitimate — you willingly gave your phone number to a company at some point, and now that company is sending you ads. But spam also comes from unknown numbers that advertise fake products and make false offers.
For decades, we weathered telemarketers on our landlines, and now they’re reaching our smartphones. I cover how to block telemarketers and robocalls on my site. Click here to learn how to eliminate these annoying phone calls for good.
Today, it’s time to fend off the smartphone spammers. Luckily, this process is easier and more streamlined than ever.
Why this is important
“Oh, it’s only spam,” you think. “I can just delete it.” But spam is more than an inconvenience. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “It’s illegal to send unsolicited commercial messages to wireless devices, including cellphones and pagers, unless the sender gets your permission first.” The same goes for text messages sent from an auto-dialer.
There are exceptions, of course. If you already have a relationship with a company, it can send you updates and offers. And the law doesn’t apply to non-commercial activities, such as political messages and surveys.
But if you’re receiving random messages from companies or organizations you’ve never heard of, there’s a good chance they’re breaking the law. It’s also possible that they’re phishing for information and trying to scam you. Texts from bogus entrepreneurs are just one way criminals try to hack your data.
A good rule of thumb: Legitimate companies don’t ask for account information over text or email, and they will never ask for your username or PIN number. If you receive a text like this, it’s almost guaranteed to be malicious.
So what steps can you take to eliminate spam? Read on.
Block the sender’s number
This is by far the easiest method, and it’s downright effortless with a mainstream smartphone. Even better, senders generally don’t realize they’ve been blocked, so they can send messages all day without knowing you’re ignoring them forever.
On an iPhone, go to the offending text and press the “i” in the upper right-hand corner. Click on the sender’s phone number at the top, and you’ll find the “Block” option. That’s all you have to do. If you remember later that you signed for updates from this company and want to hear more, you can always go back and unblock the number.
There is a loophole: The blocked number can still leave a voicemail. You won’t receive a notification, so in a worst-case scenario, those voicemails will pile up without you noticing. This is unlikely, but if you do receive a bunch of audio messages, you can delete them later on.
On Android, you can do the same thing, except instead of an “i” it’s the three vertical dots. Then select People & Options >> Block.
Report to your carrier
You could stop there, but the FTC would appreciate it if you did your civic duty as well. Whether you are a Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile customer, you can easily hold these spammers accountable by notifying your carrier.
On an iPhone, find the spam message and hold it down with your finger. A new menu will pop up around the message. In the lower right, press “More” and then the arrow icon. This will produce a “forwarded” message. In the “to” field, enter 7726 and send the message. That’s it.
Not sure what 7726 means? If you look at your keypad, you’ll see it spells out “SPAM.” Clever, eh?
You can do almost the same exact thing on your Android: Hold down the text, hit the “forward” arrow, and also send to 7726.
If you’re feeling particularly motivated, you can contact the FCC or FTC and file a formal complaint. This requires more time and effort, but the more customers fight against spammers, the less damage they will cause.
Want to call in the big guns? Click here for three apps that will help you fend off unwelcome calls.
Protect yourself against spam
You may feel the urge to reply. Maybe you’re just so annoyed that you want to tell the sender how you feel. Maybe you love practical jokes and you want to mess around with the sender. Maybe you’re just bored and you want to find out who the sender actually is.
One word: Don’t. At best, you won’t get a response. At worst, you could make the problem worse. No matter how indignant or curious you are, the less you interact with a spammer, the better off you’ll be.
It’s even more vital that you do not click on any unfamiliar links or download any suspicious files. Even if a sender looks legitimate, one bad link could enable a stranger to spy on your phone.
To save yourself a lot of headaches later on, you can also sign the Do Not Call list, which should spare you both spamming and unwelcome telemarketing calls.
In theory, adding your number to this registry should stop telemarketers from calling you. But that isn’t always the case. Click here for three things you need to know about the Do Not Call Registry.
How else can you protect yourself from predatory marketers? Be sure to listen to or download my podcasts, or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.
Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.
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