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Friday, March 24, 2023

Scam Texts Must Be Blocked, FCC Tells Mobile Companies

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Consumer text scams have mushroomed into an epidemic. And now the government is taking a big swing at eliminating this threat.

In a unanimous decision announced March 16, the Federal Communications Commission adopted its very first rules that aim to snuff out robotexts, notably the kind that attempt to trick consumers into clicking on links that can result in disastrous and costly outcomes. 

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The agency is requiring wireless phone carriers to block texts from illegitimate phone numbers, which can display as numbers from unused lines and landlines, and urging the companies to seek other ways to fight back.

“Scam artists have found that sending us messages about a package you never ordered or a payment that never went through along with a link to a shady website is a quick and easy way to get us to engage on our devices and fall prey to fraud,” FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “These robotexts are making a mess of our phones. They are reducing trust in a powerful way to communicate. So today we take our first step to stop these unwanted texts at the network level,” she said.

In his own statement, FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks pointed out why such text scams are frequently effective. 

“Robotexts are different than robocalls,” he said. “Recipients of a robocall have the ability to either pick up the phone or not. But on most devices, recipients of a robotext see at least some of an unwanted message immediately, exposing them [to] — and potentially luring them into — harm.”

Potential for fraud is widespread

The scam often takes the form of phishing, in which a consumer who clicks on a link is transported to what appears to be an authentic looking financial institution website but is in reality bogus. Or clicking on a text link may surreptitiously install malware on an unwitting victim’s device.

The FCC reports a more than 500 percent increase in text scam complaints in recent years and says that from 2015 to 2022 robotext complaints rose from around 3,300 to 18,900 annually. 

Americans received more than 225 billion robotexts in 2022, more than four times what they saw in 2020, according to Robokiller, a technology company that fights spam. That compares with more than 78 billion spam calls, up from almost 55 billion in 2020.

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