Ting! You’ve just received a new message. You set down your bags of groceries, dig into your pocket and pull out your smartphone. Then, you frown. The message reads: “REAL ROLEX 90% OFF!” You’ve never seen the phone number in your life.
You received spam, and smartphones have become a major target for indiscriminate marketing campaigns. Sometimes the senders are legitimate. You willingly gave your phone number to a company, and now that company is sending you ads. But spam also comes from unknown numbers, advertising fake products and offers.
For decades, we weathered telemarketers on our landlines. Those calls are now reaching our smartphones. I cover how to block telemarketing 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 has become easier and more streamlined than ever.
Why This is Important
“Oh, it’s only spam,” you think to yourself. “I can just delete it.”
Spam is more than an inconvenience. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “It’s illegal to send unsolicited commercial messages to wireless devices, including cell phones 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, they can legally send you updates and offers. This law doesn’t apply to non-commercial activities, such as political messages and surveys.
But if you’re receiving random messages from a company or organization you’ve never heard of, there’s a good chance this activity is against the law. It’s also possible that the sender is phishing for information and trying to scam you. Texts from bogus entrepreneurs are just one way that criminals try to hack your data.
A good rule of thumb is that legitimate companies don’t ask for account information over text or email. They will never request your username or PIN numbers. If you receive a text like this, it’s almost guaranteed to be malicious.
Block the Sender’s Number
This is by far the easiest method, and with a mainstream smartphone the process is downright effortless. Better yet, senders generally don’t realize they’ve been blocked, so they can send messages all day without knowing you’ve ignored them forever.
On an iPhone, go to the offending text and press the “i” in the upper right-hand corner. You’ll find the “Block” option, and that’s all you have to do. If you remember that you did sign up for updates from this company and want to hear more, you can always unblock the number later.
There is one loophole to this system. The blocked number can still leave a voicemail. You won’t receive a notification, so in a worst case scenario those voicemails may 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.
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 even 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, and at worst, engaging 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 any unfamiliar links or download any suspicious-looking files. Even if a sender looks legitimate, one bad link could enable a stranger to spy on your phone, and the risk is never worthwhile.
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. However, 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 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.