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Plagued by spam

X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 16:58 UK time, Monday, 6 February 2012

Spam texts - many of us are being plagued by them, some of us on a daily basis.

Often they claim to be able to get us a cheap loan or help with a personal injury claim if we’ve been in an accident. But how do they get our number and what should we do when we receive them?

The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 cover the way organisations send direct marketing messages by text.

Under these rules a company isn’t allowed to send you marketing texts you didn’t agree to unless they have your details from a previous sale or negotiation and are offering a similar product or service; or you were given an opportunity to refuse texts when your details were taken.

That’s all well and good when dealing with legitimate companies who follow these rules.

But of course it’s often more difficult than this. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) believes that many of these texts aren’t coming from single businesses. Instead they’re coming from Lead Generation Companies. These people send out texts to thousands of randomly generated phones numbers with the hope that a handful will respond. Then these details are sold on to other companies to use for marketing purposes.

That’s why our number one piece of advice is never to respond to the text – no matter if it says text STOP to stop them coming. Effectively all you’re doing is telling someone that they’ve texted a genuine number and there is a real person there they could try selling something to.

Sometimes they even put a name on the text…and sometimes they even get it right. Many people find this quite disturbing and sinister as they don’t recognise the number it’s come from - “Hi Shirley, get your £100-£1000 funds today only. No checks, no fees” or “Hi Tom here’s that site I was telling you about. Made £630 in the last week already.” The Information Commissioner’s Office says these appear to break the law because they’re being sent to people without their prior consent and without identifying the sender.

The difficulty for the regulators is that they’ve discovered many of the texts are being sent from unregistered pay as you go sim cards. So tracking down those people responsible for them is incredibly difficult.

X-Ray spoke to Anne Jones, the Assistant Information Commissioner for Wales. She says they’re trying to do all the can to put a stop to it: “We think it’s a really big problem, there’s thousands and thousands of these things being sent out because what their doing really is trying to generate leads, so they send out thousands in the hope they’ll get hundreds back that they can then sell on for profit.

“We are the regulator - we have got powers to fine up to half a million pounds now for serious breaches so we are doing what we can.

“We are trying to firstly educate the public basically to say to them that when you get one of these things don’t reply to it just delete it - we are trying to cut off the supply, if you like, for the guys who are doing this.

“And at the other end of the scale we are trying to reach the businesses who are buying all these leads to tell them they need to be aware that actually we can take action against them if they are using this kind of lead. And then of course the guys in the middle who are actually doing this we are trying to shut them down.”

The ICO and X-Ray advices that you should:

• Ignore the message – never respond, not even to text STOP
• Report the message to your network operator who could prevent more spam coming from the same number.
• Watch who you give your mobile phone number to and where you’re writing it down.
• Never advertise your number on the internet, for example on Facebook.
• Check privacy policies and marketing opt outs on forms carefully when you are signing up to products or services.
Useful Reporting numbers:
Orange, O2, T-Mobile and Three: Forward the SMS to 7726
Vodafone: Forward the SMS to 87726

Further information on spam texts is available on the ICO website.

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