How to Protect Yourself from Premium SMS Text Message Scams

Did you just get signed up for $10 a month worth of trivia texts?

Young woman using smarphone at cafe
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You just received 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 never signed 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.

Premium SMS messages are intended to be a legitimate way for a 'content provider' to make money by somehow convincing someone to sign up to receive content via SMS, such as a joke of the day, trivia question, or something else with a 'premium' charge being automatically added to the 'subscriber's' cell phone bill.

The 'subscriber' is usually charged a fee of up to $9.99 for the 'content'. This charge may continue from month to month until the 'subscriber' sends a text reply of "STOP" 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? I guess that's a matter of opinion. I would never think of subscribing to this kind of stuff, I don't even like spending $7.99 per month on Netflix.

I guess maybe there are some people out there who would enjoy receiving trivia facts via text 3 times a month for $10, but I doubt there are many.

The problem is that the Premium SMS message payment system is being abused by scammers and fraudsters. A lot of people, myself included, report 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 or anything.

Someone did this to me and I started getting a bill for something I never signed up for.

How can you avoid becoming the victim of Premium SMS message fraud?

Turn on Premium SMS Message blocking

Many cell service providers, such as Verizon, will allow you to block all Premium SMS Messages so that you will never become a victim of Premium SMS fraud. Verizon allows you log into your account and turn on the blocking feature via their website, or you can call customer service and have them enable the blocking feature as well.

The one downside is that you won't be able to subscribe to the 'joke of the day' for $10 bucks a month anymore (unless you turn blocking off), but I think most of us can live with that if it means that we will be protected from future 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, it may at least help you avoid some text based advertising spam.

If you live in the US, you can add your number to the the U.S. Do Not Call Registry by visiting www.donotcall.gov

The 'Reply STOP' debate

Verizon was quick to tell me that I could have replied "STOP" to the number that was sending me premium text messages. This wouldn't remove the charges that had already posted to my account but it would discontinue future month charges.

This was contrary to what I had read from other victims who said that after they replied STOP, they received even more bogus texts from other Premium SMS vendors. They thought that when they replied that the scammers realized that the number they had sent the message to was a live number which encouraged future text spam.

I did not reply STOP, but I did call Verizon and had them remove the charges. I also had them block all future premium SMS messages for all my numbers. This appears to have been effective as I have not received any more text-based spam or bogus Premium SMS charges.

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