How to Block Text Messages From Premium SMS Scammers

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Text-messaging scams persist, despite efforts to quash them. People who receive such texts typically don't know where they came from, how they got started, or how to block unwanted text messages from premium SMS scammers.

These scams vary in detail and degree of swindle, but they generally follow similar progressions. A typical example:

You receive a text message from some strange three- or five-digit number. It says something like, "Trivia Master: Welcome to your Trivia Master Alerts! 3xmsgs/wk billed @$9.99/mo Reply HELP or call STOP to cancel Msg&Data Rates May Apply."

The problem is that you don't remember ever signing up for this "Trivia Master" (or whatever it says its name is), and you certainly don't want to end up with a bill for $9.99 a month. There must be some mistake. How did this happen? Is this for real?

Welcome to the scary world of premium SMS message fraud.

How Do Premium SMS Messages Work?

These aren't just run-of-the-mill annoying spam messages. Each time you receive a premium SMS message, you get charged an extra fee — a "premium" — on your cell phone bill. And of course, the scammer pockets that fee.

Premium SMS message schemes aren't always nefarious, though. Some are above board, intended as legitimate ways for content providers to make money; an advertiser somehow convinces people to sign up to receive content, such as a joke of the day, trivia question, or something else, via text messages at prescribed intervals, with a premium charge being automatically added to the subscriber's cell phone bill.

The subscriber is usually charged a fee, typically $9.99 or so, for this "content." This charge continues from month to month until the subscriber sends a text reply of "STOP" (or similar) to the premium SMS message content provider or calls their cell provider to have the charges stopped.

Is a joke of the day or trivia fact worth nearly $10 a month? That's a matter of opinion, but generally, no. Most people don't enjoy spending money on things that can be found for free with a simple online search.

When Premium SMS Becomes Problem SMS

Unfortunately, the premium SMS message payment system is being abused by scammers and fraudsters. Many people have reported being signed up for these "services" without their consent. All someone has to do to sign a victim up for these potentially expensive messages is to go to a website, type in a phone number, click a consent box, and hit Submit. That's all there is to it. There is no credit card information needed — and in many cases, no verification and no double opt-in, practices that the dictates of law and good marketing require advertisers to use.

How Can You Avoid Becoming the Victim of Premium SMS Message Fraud?

You can take steps to safeguard yourself and your account from becoming entangled in one of these schemes.

Turn on Premium SMS Message blocking

Many cell service providers, such as Verizon, allow users to block all premium SMS messages. Verizon allows you to log into your account and turn on the blocking feature via the company's website, or you can call customer service and have them enable the blocking feature for you.

This means you won't be able to subscribe to "Joke of the Day" for $10 bucks a month anymore even if you want to (unless you turn blocking off). That's a small sacrifice, though, for protection against future unauthorized charges from premium SMS scammers.

Add Your Number to the Do Not Call/Do Not Solicit Registry

While not as effective as blocking premium messages from ever reaching your phone, this step may at least help you avoid some text-based advertising spam. If you live in the U.S., you can add your number to the U.S. Do Not Call Registry.

The “Reply STOP” Debate

Some people who are victimized this way simply send "STOP" to the number that is sending the premium text messages. This, however, doesn't remove the charges that have already posted to the account; at best, it only discontinues future monthly charges.

Moreover, attempting to handle the problem in this way can actually make it worse. Some victims report that, after they replied "STOP" as above, they received even more bogus texts from other premium SMS vendors. This may be because replying directly to the offending sender verifies that the subscriber number is indeed active— and therefore ripe to exploit.

What to Do If You've Been Spammed With Premium Texts

If you've fallen victim to a premium text message scam, the best way to handle it is by calling your phone service provider and explaining what's happening. Most will remove these unauthorized charges from your bill. Also, ask your provider to block all future premium SMS messages for all the numbers on your account.