A little after 8 a.m. this morning, my cell phone rang with a distinctive chime indicating a text message. Offering advance warning, it told me I was about to receive a text from someone using Yahoo text. A couple of minutes later the text came. The message from someone I did not recognize, "scott.shawn22," was a link leading to a webpage saying I'd won a $1,000 Walmart gift card.
I'd suddenly entered the world of the text message spam scam.
At first I thought it might be related to the notorious vulnerability of the Yahoo email system. I receive dozens of messages from friends and business contacts, people I know who have Yahoo accounts that turn out to be spam.
A notable recent case was a message from folksinger Joanne Rand saying she was stuck in Edinburgh, Scotland after a robbery. Could I help her out by wiring some money? Of course I knew she was not overseas, but some of her friends were not so certain and called her. In that case the hacker who broke into her Yahoo account erased all 1,200 contacts, and all of the email stored there, probably to make it harder for her to tell friends to ignore the fake plea for help. She no longer uses Yahoo.
So, this morning I vented my frustration with Yahoo in a Facebook post. Before long, a dozen friends responded who'd received the same text combo. Sean Ennis, who knows a bit about computers, suggested, "I'm not sure it's a hack. It would be simple to just text all the cell numbers: 845-1234, 845-1235, etc."
Yes, I have an 845 number, as did most of the other text spam receivers. I started thinking my guess that this was perhaps some hacker who'd harvested my phone number when they stole someone's Yahoo email account was wrong. It seemed more like simple, illegal text-book text spam.
Belinda White wondered, "What can we do to stop this from happening?" I checked the Federal Communications Commission site since they're supposed to defend us against stuff like this. It must bee a FAQ since it was right there in bold letters:
What to Do If You Receive an Unwanted Commercial Message on Your Wireless Device
You may file a complaint with the FCC if you receive: an unwanted commercial message sent to a wireless device; or a telephone solicitation made to a wireless device for which the phone number is registered on the national Do-Not-Call list; or any autodialed text message on your wireless device, or an unwanted commercial message to a non-wireless device from a telecommunications company or advertising a telecommunications company's products or services.
There is no charge for filing a complaint. You can file your complaint using an online complaint form. You can also file your complaint with the FCC's Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322)
I tried the phone method, which involved working my way through a complex computerized phone tree that did not seem to have an appropriate option for this specific problem.
The online form is long and involved, but I guess I'll fill it out. What else can one do but complain? I tried calling the FCC media office to see if they're doing anything about the problem, but the press officers did not answer. I left a message, but I'm really not waiting for the return call with baited breath. They probably figure they have more pressing concerns.
[Note: An FCC official left a phone message early Wednesday asking me to send her an email describing the problem. Update pending.]
I've figured out how to manage the endless barrage of email spam, I receive too many junk phone calls, but I just hang up and they've stopped bothering me. Are junk texts just one more side-effect of our journey down this new communication highway? Perhaps.