This article originally appeared in TidBITS on 2012-04-20 at 10:34 a.m.
The permanent URL for this article is: http://tidbits.com/article/12947
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Report Text Message Spam to AT&T

by Glenn Fleishman

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 [1], 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 [2] 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.

[image link] [3]

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.”

  12. [image link] [4]

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.

[1]: http://www.att.net/smartcontrols-WirelessParentalControls
[2]: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/at-t-mark-the-spot/id338307313?mt=8&at=10l5PW
[3]: http://tidbits.com/resources/2012-04/report-uce-text-messages.png
[4]: http://tidbits.com/resources/2012-04/report-uce-text-messages-2.png