In the UK there is currently an epidemic of unsolicited text messages for accidents, debt or mis-sold insurance. These are sent by companies who are seeking leads to sell on to claims management companies or solicitors. They are misleading and breach a number of regulations. Unfortunately there are enough people who have had an accident, in debt or have paid for PPI who understandably believe the messages are genuine. They are not. Often the messages start with words along the lines of ‘FREE MSG: Our records indicate that you are [or ‘you may be’] entitled to …’. If they really had such records then it would be a breach of the Data Protection Act, but they don’t have any records. They are just trying to mislead the recipient. At best these texts are annoying, at worst they could be distressing.
Here’s what you can do about them:
The good news is that receiving such a message in the UK won’t actually cost you any money. Only messages sent from four, five or six digit numbers (called shortcodes) can make a charge to your phone. If the message comes from something that looks like a normal mobile phone or has a name instead of a number then it will not make a charge to your phone. If you think that it has cost you money then report it to the premium rate regulator, Phone Pay Plus immediately. They have emergency powers to close down numbers that are illegally making charges. You can make a complaint by email, phone or even SMS by following this link: http://www.phonepayplus.org.uk/For-The-Public/Make-a-complaint.aspx
Don’t delete it immediately, do make a note of the details
An ordinary SMS cannot damage your phone – it can’t add a virus, delete anything or make a charge to your phone bill. If the message icon looks different to other text messages, then it is wise to delete it without opening it, however, if it looks like any other SMS, then it will not cause any problems.
It’s important to make a note of the details including:
- The time and date you received it
- What the message said
- The name or number that it came from
Report it to your operator
In the first instance, tell your operator about it. All of the mobile operators have a spam SMS reporting service:
- 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.
Report it to the Ministry of Justice
The MOJ regulate companies in the accident claims, debt management and mis-sold claims sector. They are very interested in hearing about companies who send unsolicited messages.
Their website is here: https://www.claimsregulation.gov.uk/index.aspx
You can complain by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 0845 450 6858 or 01283 233 309 (only use the 0845 number from your landline as phoning from your mobile will be more expensive).
Report it to the Information Commissioner’s Office
As of 26th May 2011, the ICO has new powers to both investigate spam and to raise fines of up to £500,000. They are also keen to hear from anyone who has had an unsolicited SMS from a company.
You can complete the form or call them from this page on their site – http://www.ico.gov.uk/complaints/privacy_and_electronic_communications.aspx
Replying to The Messages
These messages usually include two ‘keywords’, one keyword (such as CLAIM) to make a ‘claim’ and STOP to opt out of further messages.
We would not advise you to reply to the text, however there is no evidence that replying to these messages will either cost you money (other than the cost of sending the text itself) or result in any significant increase in spam. If you reply with CLAIM then you will get a call within a day or so from someone saying they represent a ‘a network of claims management companies’ and asking for details of the accident (or debt or PPI). They sometimes call from a withheld number (which is illegal) and when questioned, they will refuse to give the company name. If you are lucky enough to find out the name of the company, then make a note of it, along with the date and time of the call and any subsequent communications, then report it to the MOJ and ICO (details above).
Replying STOP is probably pointless. They are suggesting that you will be opted out of further communications but there is no evidence that they will actually do this.
If you reply with anything else (including threats or profanity) then it will simply be ignored. These messages are received by a computer which will only recognise the specific keyword (eg CLAIM), which is then passed on to the call centre. Anything else will simply disappear into cyberspace and will never be read by a human. The best way to get revenge is to report it to the organisations listed above.
The regulators are well aware of the problem with spam SMS and are currently working closely with operators and industry experts to both stop these messages. Providing as much information as you can to the regulators will help catch the spammers.