It’s no longer scam calls that bear the brunt of our cellular exasperations—it’s scam texts, too. Over the last decade, scammers have shifted from calling their targets to texting them, too, turning the average mobile phone user’s text log into spam city. It’s so bad that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has had no choice but to step in.
On Thursday, the FCC rolled out its first rules focused on scam texting. Under the new regulations, cell carriers must block texts from invalid, unallocated, or unused phone numbers (AKA the phone numbers scammers are most likely to spoof). Carriers must also filter out texts from numbers whose subscribers have “self-identified as never sending text messages,” plus numbers for government agencies and other entities that normally wouldn’t communicate via text. (Question for the FCC: Does Beyoncé count?)
The agency is also working to include scam texts in Do-Not-Call Registry protections, which currently helps mobile phone users avoid sales and scam calls. The FCC has identified that marketers and scammers often use texts to initiate contact with users before spamming them with sales material under various phone numbers, making it difficult to block every attempt. By incorporating texts into the Do-Not-Call Registry, the FCC hopes to close this loophole and prevent well- and ill-intentioned spam.
Credit: Kamran Abdullayev/Unsplash
“These robotexts are making a mess of our phones. They are reducing trust in a powerful way to communicate,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel on Thursday. “So today we take our first step to stop these unwanted texts at the network level.”
This is just the start for the FCC, which is seeking public comment on other ways to filter out scam text. The agency admits that the public should use common sense with suspicious messages by refusing to engage with them and reporting them to the FCC directly. But even if you don’t click on that suspicious “parcel tracking” link or respond to the “discount health insurance” text, scam texts can reduce mobile phone users’ ability to keep their message logs organized. That’s where these new regulations come in.
According to the FCC, text message scam complaints rose by over 500% between 2015 and 2022, accounting for approximately 18,900 scams yearly. Those are just the reported scams; in 2021, The RoboKiller Report found that Americans had received over 87 billion spam texts.