43% of people in the UK have had a spam text (and 30% in the last month)

Whilst many a mobile marketer is developing whizzy apps, using QR codes and creating great mobile sites, the truth is that in the UK most consumers’ experience of mobile marketing is spam. The particular problem has been spam for accident claims, debt management and PPI claims. A new study by the DMA found that nearly 43% of the UK adult population have received such a message. It would also seem that the problem is getting worse, as 30% of people have received such a text in the last month.

The problem of the ‘text pests’ was reported on the front page of The Sunday Telegraph. Along with previous radio reports and a campaign by Money Saving Expert, the issue is becoming very high profile indeed. In the Telegraph report, John Spencer, Vice Chair of the Motor Accident Solicitor’s Association called for a ban on referral fees. Given that 3% of people have replied to such a text, the ‘claims farming’ industry is worth millions of pounds. Removing the incentive would certainly help. However, it won’t solve the problem of spam SMS. We have already seen the spammers switch to generating leads for Debt Management Orders and PPI claims. The MO is the same, and is clearly carried out by the same people. It is therefore essential that the whole of the mobile marketing sector works to removing the spam SMS, creating a clean, permission-based channel.

With my DMA hat on (yes, you get a hat when you join), we’ve been working to address the issue. A month ago we sat down with all the key regulators as well as some industry representatives to work out how we can stop it. Part of the problem is the bureaucracy of the regulators and the operators who can be both slow to respond or take concerted action. We identified seven different sets of regulations that are being breached by these messages. However that actually makes enforcement more complicated. Regulators who could enforce this are the ICO, MOJ, OfCom, OFT, The Solicitors Association and the ASA, but many of them will simply pass the buck to another regulators. Similarly, although some operators are very concerned about the problem, the ones we invited didn’t come to the meeting.

It’s hardly surprising, therefore that the DMA study found that 46% of consumers didn’t know who to complain to. Of those who thought they would know where to go, OfCom was the favoured one (20%). Unfortunately OfCom have no information or reporting procedures for this on their website. In our meeting it was clear that they had no interest in tackling the issue. Many would complain to their operator (17%), but our experience is that customer services rarely know who in their organisation they should pass the information to. In fact the two organisations who are most relevant to the accident claims texts are the ICO and MOJ. They scored the lowest of the organisations that consumers would go to.

So what’s the solution? It seems remarkably simple. At the sending end, the operators need to respond more quickly to block spam texts. At the receiving end, all of the regulators need to take a more concerted approach to enforcement. They should also be providing a clear, simple set of consumer guidelines. The ICO have some information here. There is also some useful information on Money Saving Expert.