Spam texts are becoming an increasing problem. Exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic as scammers sought to take advantage of the situation, spam texts have soared by 55% in 2021 compared to the previous year, with 47 billion spam texts having been sent.
They come in the form of fraudulent messages about overpaid tax, deliveries for items you never ordered, winning bogus prizes, and countless other scams.
While some might argue that spam texts are less of a problem than nuisance calls as they’re easier to ignore. It’s predicted that robotexts will lead to the loss of $101million in 2021 alone.
So, how to stop spam texts? Fortunately, technology is constantly evolving to address this ongoing nuisance. In this guide, we’ll walk you through your options.
What are spam texts?
Spam texts broadly fall into two categories:
Spam texts from legitimate organizations. Similar to telemarketing calls, these aren’t scams and they are usually trying to sell you something. However, they’re a nuisance and most people would rather not receive them in the first place.
Scam texts from bad actors. These are outright scams usually from scammers pretending to be from your bank bank, the IRS, the courts, etc, who are trying to trick you into giving them information such as your bank details (known as “phishing”) or to hand over money.
What Does Phishing Mean? Phishing usually refers to a fraudulent text message or email that is sent in an effort to get personal information out of the recipient. They claim to be from an official company and will usually ask the recipient for specific personal details that include passwords or credit card numbers. SMS phishing is also sometimes referred to as ‘Smishing’ and describes an unwarranted spam text that is attempting to get details from the recipient.
How do text scammers & spammers get my phone number?
Text spam from legitimate companies is often caused by customers unwittingly giving permission to organizations to use their data for marketing purposes when they buy a product or service.
Scammers, on the other hand, will usually buy bulk data lists of names and phone numbers to target. The scary part is that all the data they need is available to buy legally from data brokers.
What is a data broker? A data broker is a business that profits from selling information it has gathered about individuals. It’s a highly lucrative industry that is currently thriving, as well as being notoriously difficult to regulate. In fact, there are thousands of data broker companies currently operating around the world – with some of the largest based in the United States. And, because they largely use public data they are not acting illegally. Data Brokers will gather their data from many locations such as social media or public records – and might use spam and robo texts to confirm that a phone number is active. The extent of information that they gather on individuals is very wide-reaching. For example, they might know the names of your children or know how much you earn. Data Brokers then sell this information onto other companies who might then target you for marketing based on specific traits. In some cases, your data might fall into the wrong hands and leave you vulnerable to fraud.
Identifying scam texts
The biggest giveaway that a text is fraudulent is if it relates to something that you are not aware of, such as a FedEx parcel that you were not expecting, or a bank that you’re not a customer of.
Aside from that, here are other red flags to look out for:
The message is asking you to click on a link in the text
The message provides a phone number and asks you to call it
The message demands an urgent response (e.g. informing you that your credit card is about to be frozen)
There are spelling and grammar errors
It’s specifically asking for personal information
Never click on a link or call a number that’s provided within suspicious-looking text-messages. Instead, look up the phone number on the website of the organization it’s purporting to be from, then phone that number to inquire about the contents of the text message.
Options to stop text spam & scams
1. Don’t reply to the spam text
Have you ever received unsolicited text messages and attempted to stop them by replying with the word: UNSUBSCRIBE or STOP? Well, we hate to be the bearer of bad news but you might have actually made yourself more prone to further spam texts in the future.
While opening a text is unlikely to be malicious, responding to it is a definite no-no. By replying to a scam SMS, you’re confirming that your number is active. This means they are likely to contact you in the future and might even sell your details onto other companies who might spam you later down the line.
2. Report the robotext
Reporting scam texts can help law enforcement agencies and phone carriers to clamp down on fraudsters.
It’s quick and easy to do this:
Forward the message to 7726 (which spells “SPAM”)
You’ll receive a message confirming it’s been received
Your phone carrier will then use this data as part of their spam fighting efforts
This service is free and available to use across all major carriers.
If, on the other hand, you receive the message via a messaging app such as WhatsApp, you can also report the spam message directly through the platform. In this case, you can simply open up the options bar and press Report Contact. You can also go one step further by blocking the number.
Reporting Spam Texts – Our Verdict This isn’t going to stop you from receiving robo texts in the future, but everyone should report spam texts when they receive them, that way carriers can quickly identify phone numbers committing fraud and shut them down. See it as your civic duty. Protection rating: 1 out of 5
3. Activate the spam filter on your phone
Both Android and iPhone devices come with built-in spam filters.
How to block spam texts on Android devices:
Open the SMS application
Click on the setting icon (three dots) in the upper right hand corner
Click “Spam protection”
Toggle on “Enable spam protection”
How to block spam texts on iPhone
Click “Unknown & Spam”
Toggle on “Filter Unknown Senders”
In-Built Spam Filters – Our Verdict This can provide protection against spam texts, but it’s based on numbers that are reported to carriers, so new numbers being operated by scammers are unlikely to be detected by these settings. Protection rating: 3 out of 5
4. Activate your carrier’s spam protection service
Mobile carriers also provide spam detection and filtering services. These have been developed more for spam calls, but can still offer protection against spam texts. All the major carriers offer free and paid services, which are delivered via mobile apps:
T-Mobile. Provides Scam Shield free of charge to all customers.
Sprint. Similar in scope to T-Mobile’s service, following the merger of the two companies. The service is called Call Screener and is now available free of charge to all customers.
AT&T. Its service is called Call Protect and has both a paid and free plan that detects scam and potentially scam numbers.
Verizon. This service is known as Call Filter, and is available as either a free service or a fuller featured premium service.
Carriers’ Spam Protection Services – Our Verdict These settings are somewhat effective against the rise of spam texts. However, the services are far from perfect. Firstly, their technology is currently more focused upon spam calls and what’s more, there are gaps in their detection systems. Protection rating: 3 out of 5
5. Protect yourself with a third party app
If the service provided by your carrier or phone OS isn’t providing a good enough solution, then you could consider using a third-party app.
Here are some leading apps currently on the market:
RoboKiller – This app claims to eliminate 99% of robocalls and robotexts and their platform is available for both iOS and android users. What’s more, the platform has also released some extensive reports about the growth of robocalls and texts as well as information on how to stop scammers.
VeroSMS – This app works by blocking any texts that include words which you have blacklisted. What’s more, the platform also automatically blocks any robotexts that include URLS from unknown numbers. Their premium version also features filtering based on machine learning and data from other users. This is only available for iOS users.
NomoRobo – Similar to RoboKiller, this app prides itself on blocking both spam calls as well as filtering unwanted texts. It is also one of the most affordable options currently available. All the NomoRobo plans come with a 14 day free trial, however users will then need to pay $1.99 a month after that.
Third Party Apps – Our Verdict There are certainly more third-party apps that are specifically geared at tackling the issue of robotexts. And, the developers behind these platforms are constantly updating their systems in order to achieve the best level of protection. However, scammers are also coming up with new methods to access your phone. This means that the apps can provide a large degree of protection but some unwanted texts might slip through. Protection rating: 4 out of 5
6. Protect your online data by addressing the root cause
The major shortcoming with all of the above options is that they don’t tackle the root cause of the problem: how scammers and robotexters get your phone number in the first place.
Huge amounts of personal identifiable information (PII), including full names, addresses, and phone numbers are available to legally purchase from data brokers. This is a primary source of data for scammers to build their text lists from.
What’s more, this is how scammers can trick you into believing they’re contacting you from your bank or other organization, by having a lot of information about you.
Therefore, in order to stop scammers from getting access to this data, the most effective action you can take is to remove your PII from data brokers. There are two ways to do this:
Option 1: Do it yourself
All data brokers must remove your personal data from their databases if you request this. We’ve created step-by-step guides on how to do this. The problem though is that there are countless data brokers active in the market, so removing all of your data from these platforms, not to mention your family members’ data, is extremely fiddly and time-consuming.
What’s more, this isn’t a one-time activity. Your personal data is continuously being added to data broker platforms, so you need to be constantly monitoring and removing this.
Option 2: Get us to do it for you
Here at DeleteMe, we’re the experts at removing your personal data from the internet. We’ve completed over 29 million data broker opt-out removals since 2010 on behalf of our customers.
As soon as you sign up with us, our team of privacy experts uses sophisticated AI to identify then scrub your personal data from all data broker platforms and other online sources of PII. And once your data is removed, scammers can no longer buy your personal data to then harass you with nuisance calls. We then monitor and remove any new personal data that’s added to these platforms, ensuring your PII stays off the internet.
As stated at the beginning of the guide, there is no perfect solution.
But as with any problem, it’s always best to treat both the symptoms and the cause. In which case, using your phone OS or carrier’s free service offering, combined with removing your data from data brokers, could provide a good all-round solution.
Or if the service provided by your carrier or phone’s OS isn’t blocking nuisance texts well enough, then subscribing to a third-party app could be your next option, while continuing to ensure your data isn’t available via data brokers.
Will Simonds runs Senior Marketing Operations at DeleteMe, and is a steadfast privacy advocate who has a resolute dedication to online privacy solutions and helping people regain their privacy.
Since joining DeleteMe in 2015, Will has worked in a number of different roles.
From launching the DeleteMe affiliate program, creating and maintaining hundreds of opt-out guides, fine-tuning DeleteMe’s customer communications and improving website conversion efficiency, Will lives and breathes DeleteMe.
Will earned his BBA from Endicott College.