For the last two years, we have frequently seen spam accident claims text messages. Having taken many a straw poll at events and conferences it seems that a significant percentage of people in the UK have experienced these messages.
This article explains who is sending them and what you can do about it:
Free Msg; Our records indicate you may be entitled to £3750 for the accident you had. To claim free reply CLAIM to this message. To opt out text STOP.
The number that it comes from frequently changes, as does the reply keyword (eg CLAIM or YES) and the amount.
Who is sending these messages?
The people sending out these messages are known as ‘claims farmers’. These are companies who find leads and then sell those to accident claims management companies. By the time they reach the claims management service, they are verified leads of people who may well have a legitimate accident claim.
There are 100s of claims farmers in the UK and it would seem that many of them are involved with this type of SMS activity. RBS Insurance did a study last year and found that 11% of accident claims started with this type of SMS.
Surely it’s Illegal?
It all depends on how you define ‘illegal’. It’s not a criminal activity – for example there is no evidence that they are trying to defraud anyone by asking for money. However it does breach a number of regulations. It breaches the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations in two ways:
1. The company sending the message is not identified – some people think the company is called ‘FREEMSG:’, however that is simply telling the recipient that the message was free to receive (which it is).
2. The recipient did not opt-in to receive the message. There are two types of opting-in – a hard opt-in is where you specifically agreed to receive the information, and a soft-opt in is where you may have been in contact with a company to buy something or a discussion about buying something, or you may have allowed your details to be given to a third party for marketing purposes.
Typically companies sending spam will claim that you gave your details on a website at some point. However, the onus is on them to show exactly where they got your details and prove that you opted-in. Simply saying ‘you gave your details on a website’ is not acceptable. It is clear from the number of people I have contacted that they would not have given out their mobile phone details at any time.
Accident claims and debt management companies are regulated by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). Under their regulations, claims marketing messages cannot be misleading or alarming. These text messages breach both of those requirements.
Will receiving or replying by SMS cost me money?
The short answer is no (apart from any cost to send a standard SMS). Any SMS that makes a charge to your phone must come from a shortcode number (4,5 or 6 digit number), and there are strict set of guidelines that make it very difficult to do illegally. If you feel that it may have cost you money then contact the regulator, PhonepayPlus. They have emergency powers to shut down any service that breaches their regulations.
What should I do with the SMS? Reply, delete it or report it?
Some people believe that SMS is like email, and that replying to it will verify the mobile number. That is not the case with SMS. All text messages include a delivery receipt, so the sender knows that you have a live mobile number without you having to reply.
On the whole it is better not to reply to the messages. There is no evidence that replying to the message will initiate further texts or calls (I have replied to a few of them and received just one phone-call back), however if you are worried about further spam, then don’t send a reply.
You could reply telling them to ‘Fcuk Off’. It will make you feel better, but it will do nothing. In all likelyhood their systems will only recognise the reply words in the message (CLAIM or STOP), so your reply will simply end up unnoticed on the server. If you really want them to read the message then start your reply with the keyword (eg CLAIM) then tell them to ‘Fcuk Off’. Or better still, tell them that you are reporting their spam to the MOJ (see below).
DON’T DELETE THE MESSAGE. Even though it’s annoying to have it on the phone, it cannot damage your mobile in any way. You WILL need the message on your phone if you are going to do make a complaint.
How to Report a Spam Message
Definately report it to the MOJ (see emails and phone numbers above). They may or may not be able to do something but it is essential they know it is happening. The MOJ are very concerned about this kind of activity.
You should also report it to your operator. All UK operators have some kind of spam reporting service (though not always made very public). I found the following:
Orange, O2, T-Mobile and Three: Forward the SMS to 7726
Vodafone: Forward the SMS to VSPAM (87726)
Alternatively complain through their customer service department.
Ultimately your operator can only help filter the messages, not stop them entirely. Filtering SMS can be problematic as unlike an email they lack any real data – it can only see the message and the sending number. Thus, variations in the message or the number it comes from may by-pass the spam filter. However, keep report it as it all helps them deal with the problem.
How did they get my number?
To be clear, your mobile operator cannot sell or give your number to a third party, so it will not have come directly from there. There are a number of ways they can get your number:
1. Rogue individuals at mobile operators – although the operator will not have sold your number it is possible that someone working or contracting for them did do that. There was an incident with a T-Mobile employee doing just that in 2009.
2. Unscrupulous data providers – this is the most likely route. These providers collect numbers through a range of sources such as websites or online surveys and sell them on, claiming they are legitimate.
3. Number generation – there are set operator codes, so it is possible to take those codes and randomly generate the last six digits. This, however is quite an expensive way to send messages, as many of the SMSs will fail (but the spammer will still pay to send them).
The best way to deal with the spammers
The ideal way to deal with the spammers is to find out exactly who the company is and report the information to the MOJ. Unfortunately that means replying to the message. I haven’t had any noticable spam as a result, so if you are prepared to take the risk then it’s worth it. It is really important to get as much information about the company as possible. At the every least their website address. Ideally get them to confirm by email or SMS. They have been known to deny phone conversations. If it is a phone conversation then make notes of the date and time of the call, the number they called from (if you have it) and the name of the person you spoke to. Once you have the information, send it to the MOJ.
I replied to one of the accident claim texts. About four days later I got a call from a withheld number. The caller said ‘we believe you have been recently injured in an accident’. I asked who was calling, and was vaguely told that they were a ‘network of claims managers’. They said my number had been passed on by another company. I asked who that company was and they told me they didn’t know. I asked them to call back with the company name and they said they would. Suffice to say I’ve never heard back from them.
If you have experienced spam SMS from accident or debt management companies, then please add (a shortish) comment here.