Worst Practices: SMS Scam

This post, by Steve Borsch, is being republished from Minnov8, a website that focuses on technology innovation in the State of Minnesota.

Sick with the flu all weekend I’d gone to bed early Sunday night only to be awakened by two back-to-back text messages arriving on my iPhone. Having been in the internet/web industry since its beginning in the mid-1990s, I instantly recognized the potential for charges from this spammer so I sat up, grabbed my iPad, and started poking around to see if either the shortcode (the “318-50″) or the toll-free 866-861-1606 number was an active scam.

I was stunned to learn it is a scam. Not only that, based upon the sheer volume of complaints I found shows that this is rampant, apparently is seeing little-to-no preemptive action on the part of the wireless carriers, and many, many mobile users are being charged monthly fees. This fraud is commonly known ascramming.

I am writing this post for the express purpose of bringing this issue to your attention and that of Lori Swanson, our State Attorney General, in order to get some action and protect consumers. If *I* can get scammed (and I am VERY cautious, careful and savvy about online scams and still don’t know how my number was discovered). I can only guess how pervasive this is in Minnesota and that it appears the carriers are likely complicit in perpetuating these cramming scams due to conflicts of interest and their subsequent inaction.

This is a mobile SMS (text message) scam which automatically subscribes the user to a monthly plan, in my case a $9.99 one as you can see from the screenshot to your right. What’s curious is that many people on several complaint forums I discovered recommended replying “STOP” to cancel since that would be an explicit opt-out. In my case I didn’t respond (never do to spam) and instead called AT&T Customer Service.

The charges were applied anyway which, I now know, is a common cramming practice. AT&T removed the charge and I explicitly requested they place a “subscription block” under my parental controls for all phones on my family plan. This part of the adventure burned up 45 minutes of my time.

During my short investigation last night for another 30 minutes, I came across these links to other people who have been victims of cramming from this same provider and have had similar charges:

  • 800 Notes, a website for 800# scamming, had these reports
  • SMS Watchdog, a website for text scamming, had these reports
  • Text Complaints had these reports
  • Plus all of these other ones

…and so on and so on. But wait until you see how this cramming is potentially worth tens of millions of dollars per year for the scammers!

Head on over to Minnov8 to see an example of another similar scam.

But as we all know for every scumbag caught there are usually others. Check your mobile phone bill for charges you didn’t authorize. Consider putting a block on your account so, even if a crammer gets your mobile number, they cannot include you in their scam.

If you have already been a victim of this cramming scam, immediately file a complaint with the Minnesota Attorney General’s office.