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Report Text Message Spam to AT&T

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If you thought your iPhone was safe from the predations of spammers, think again. Because U.S. carriers know that unhappy customers will complain to state attorneys general, the FCC, and legislators about receiving and being charged for unsolicited commercial (and often totally fraudulent) cell phone calls and text messages, mobile companies have policed such activity quite closely.

But if you’re like me — and reports indicate you are — you’ve started to receive more unwanted calls and messages in the last year. Calls are the harder of the two to deal with: AT&T and other carriers charge for a blocking service that’s quite inconvenient to use. It’s not integrated into an iPhone’s call system, for starters. AT&T’s is $4.99 per month, and lets you block only 30 numbers. Hardly a solution, although it’s meant mostly to control kids’ use of phones.

My uncle has a better solution. Create a “Sir Spam-a-Lot” entry in Contacts, and add any spam callers as alternative numbers to that entry. It’s surprising how often scammers re-use the same number. Your phone rings, shows “Sir Spam-a-Lot” is calling, and you just double-tap to send it to voicemail or ignore it. Even better, take the advice of a commenter and set a silent or extremely innocuous ringtone for the Sir Spam-a-Lot contact so spam calls and texts don’t interrupt you.

AT&T offers a way to report unwanted SMS/MMS messages, but I had to ask on Twitter for the instructions, as the steps are not obvious to those of us who don’t use SMS/MMS regularly. The free AT&T Mark the Spot app for reporting bad cell coverage or calls also includes a button for reporting SMS spam that explains, with too little detail, how to do it. Perhaps a Report This Message button in the Messages app would be abused.


Here are the steps for AT&T. Although I only have an AT&T account, my understanding is that other U.S. carriers use the same 7726 reporting number and have similar approaches.

Note that AT&T waives all charges for reporting spam messages for those on limited messaging plans, but the company does not automatically credit you for the spam message itself. You can request a credit from AT&T customer service, but it may not be worth the effort for twenty cents. Of course, it’s not worth AT&T’s effort either, so perhaps if lots of people request credits, they’ll figure out how to provide automatic credits for reported spam messages. It’s unreasonable for AT&T to benefit financially from allowing customer accounts to be abused by spammers.

  1. Bring up the text message in Messages and be sure not to click any URLs embedded in the message.

  2. Tap Edit.

  3. Tap the empty circular (radio-style) button to the left of the unwanted message. The Forward button activates.

  4. Tap the Forward button.

  5. Enter 7726 (the numeric equivalent of the letters SPAM on a telephone keypad) and tap Send.

  6. AT&T responds with a message asking you to send the number from which the message originated.

  7. You can write down the number of the spam and then tap it in, but you can also use my uncle’s trick here too. Back at the spam message, tap Add Contact > Create New Contact, and either make that “Sir Spam-a-Lot” entry or tap Add to Existing Contact if you already have one. (If this number is already in an entry, tap Contact.)

  8. Now tap the number that was added (or is already there in the Edit screen), tap Select All, and tap Copy.

  9. Tap Done to close the Contact view.

  10. Navigate back to the message you received from AT&T, tap in the Text Message field, tap Paste, and tap Send.

  11. You will receive a response from AT&T that they “appreciate your assistance.”


Some of this reporting is purely in your self-interest, particularly if you pay per text or have a grandfathered limited-message plan (I still have my 2007 plan that includes 200 SMS/MMS messages per month). By reporting, you can theoretically reduce future unwanted use of your limited plan, as well as the annoyance factor of repeat spamming. But you’re also helping the world at large. If enough people constantly report text message spam, the crooks and abusers will be shut off more quickly, and we will all receive less spam.

 

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Comments about Report Text Message Spam to AT&T
(Comments are closed.)

Than Tibbetts  2012-04-20 11:08
I'd add that every AT&T customer should go to http://att.com/db to see if they've had any charges get through.

My wife and I found $20 worth of recent scam charges, and another $4 a month charge that had been on the account for longer than AT&T lets you look back into your records. http://thanland.com/notes/scammy-text-messages-are-scammy
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-04-20 11:30
This is great - I'd been wondering just what to do with the SMS spam I got while away on vacation and didn't have a chance to research. Sir Spam-a-Lot now resides in my Contacts, and one more spammer has been turned into the authorities.
Michael Croft  2012-04-20 12:04
Two more pieces of advice
1: create a ringtone of silence. Make that Sir Spams-a-lot's ringtone.
2: request a feature enhancement at apple.com for. A better SMS spam reporting feature.
I don't get it, how does not receiving SMS spam eliminate charges? Since when do you have to pay to receive messages?
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-04-23 12:05
I believe that AT&T deducts reported messages from your SMS/MMS bill. That's our understanding.

[Update: No! You have to request credit. See Adam's following comments.]
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-04-22 06:26
I've now confirmed that we were mistaken - AT&T does not automatically credit you the $0.20 - see my quoted email from them below.

That said, I think anyone who gets a text message spam and has the time to spare should request a refund - if enough people do it, it will force AT&T to address this issue.
Chuck, in the U.S. it has long been the case that you are billed for both incoming and outgoing SMS. Obviously for people with unlimited SMS plans it's not an issue, but for someone like me who doesn't text much and just pays per message, it's $0.20 down the drain every time I get a spam text.
That's ridiculous. I've heard about those $100/month plans, but when the carriers are double dipping, charging both customers this sounds even more outrageous.

I only have to pay when sending messages myself, when calling myself and when receiving a call outside the country, receiving texts is always free.
T-Mobile: open the spam text and write down the sender's phone number.

Forward the spam text to 7726 (SPAM)

In a few seconds you'll get a reply from T-Mobile asking for the sender's phone number.

Reply to that message with the phone number you wrote down.

No charge to your account for these messages to report text spam.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-04-20 14:14
So it sounds like exactly the same process that AT&T is using. Good! Hopefully Verizon Wireless is the same too.
asm732  2012-04-23 18:59
This is great to know for spam test messages (which started when I was with AT&T, and have carried over to my T-Mobile account, since I kept the same number).

Is there a number or place to report spam phone calls to T-Mobile? I get several of these per week, and have identified them as SpamCalls in my phone's contact list. Not sure I believe that any service provider can keep up with changing phone numbers of spammers (who sells them the spammers phone service anyway?). I think we need someone to advocate for local control in our phones (by whitelisting/blacklisting numbers). I can do this with my computer for email addresses, so why not my phone too?
Walter Davis  2012-04-20 14:04
I've been getting these, about once a week, and they are being sent by e-mail. The return address (if that's what you call it) is set to a partial phone number, so they're nearly impossible to get into the main spam workflow with ATT. They advised me to reply with just the word Block in the reply. The phone rep said that if that's the entire body of the message, it does not go back to the sender, but enters a blocking queue.
Phil Kim  2012-04-20 14:12
Does it really work?

I am on AT&T's pay-per-use messaging plan and I have reported several spams in the past (by forwarding to 7726). To date, I have never received credit.
Phil Kim  2012-04-20 14:21
According to AT&T (http://www.att.net/smartcontrols-SpamControlsForWireless):

"If I get a spam message, what should I do?

Help us stop spam on your phone. Text us the actual spam message to short code 7726 (SPAM) to start an investigation."

Hm, investigation?

"What can I do if I get charged for spam?

If spam has become a problem for you, simply let us know and we'll work with you to resolve the issue. It's impossible for us to determine if a message is unsolicited unless you bring it to our attention."

So it sounds like you need to contact customer service to get charges refunded.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-04-22 06:24
Yes, this is correct. I've now gotten email from AT&T about this, saying:

"While there is no charge associated with reporting a spam message, the original message you receive does charge the $0.20 just as any incoming text message will charge. As a one time courtesy, we can refund you the $0.20 fee if it does show on your next invoice. Simply reach out to us when you get your bill and let us know- then we can make that adjustment. I apologize for any inconvenience the unsolicited message has caused."
Steven  2012-04-20 21:38
You can also have AT&T simply disable SMS on all your accounts. That blocks everyone from sending irritating text messages to you. There is no charge for that fix. I've got four accounts set that way but ironically I still get one SMS a month from AT&T telling me my bill was paid! They claim that they can't block themselves!
I am blocking all SMS messages on our phones at the end of May. I wanted to disable SMS a lot earlier, but have been unable to train my wife (and her coworkers) to use the Google voice number instead of the iphone number.

Google SMS messaging is kind of weak, and does't integrate into the messages app, but it's free. It also doesn't work with short codes, so some of the things I do use SMS messaging for will no longer work, including amazon shipping notifications.

On the other hand, those other things aren't worth the $30/month for family unlimited SMS, especially not since we are using iMessages so much.
Christopher Rizzo  2012-04-21 07:01
Apple really needs to give us better management tools. I would love to be able to set my phone to only receive text messages or iMessage from people in my contact list, same with calls.

I assume the AT&T etc, would not allow this though.
Depending on how you use sms you an go to http://mymessages.wireless.att.com/ and block SMS messages from email accounts. It's possible to set up an alias for email to SMS gatewaying while blocking the normal #########@msg.att.net. You can also whitelist specific email sources that have to use that number. Using this dramatically cut down the amount of SMS Spam I receive.
Call me slightly cynical, but I'm not sure their investigations are quick or effective. This morning, I got the exact message you used in your article. Still, I will scream into the wind with y'all- it does make me feel better. Here's hoping your spotlight on the reporting mechanism encourages action on the carrier's part.
Nas Dev  2012-05-19 07:30
SMS Messages are not known unless disclosed through 7726, so the issue becomes getting multiple people to report quickly so that number can be shut down.

The problem is that spammers quickly cycle through numbers and multiple UNIQUE reporters are needed to block the account within a cetain period of time.

There will be people brought to justice over this, but collecting the evidence to get to the source and not just the affliliated marketer takes time.
Ed Sikorski  2012-04-23 17:11
THANK YOU for this tidbit! I just got that 1000 ipad giveaway Spam SMS and forwarded to ATT. And created my wireless blocking of emailed SMS and images (I don't need this and most times its phone to phone).
With Android, there are free programs to send Sir Spam-a-lot (Evil Marketer on my phone) directly to voicemail with no ring.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-04-24 09:55
We've now heard from a reader that the same steps, and the same 7726 short code, also works for Verizon Wireless subscribers. He also had been told, but has not confirmed, that Verizon Wireless would remove the charges for spam messages if you were on a limited-message plan.
Nicholas Barnard  2012-05-23 15:36
So I just used this article to report an SMS spam.. @#($@*#$.. But I have a much better suggestion to replace Glenn's Step #7:
7. Back at the spam message, tap Add Contact > Create New Contact. Tap the Spam Mobile Number, then press and hold to get the Select/Select All/Paste Popup, Tap Select, then tap Copy. Then tap cancel.

This way you get the number in your clipboard without adding it as a contact and cluttering that space up..