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ICO survey: Spam texts give us the sads

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Police have raided a UK office they suspect was a front for spam texters and are eyeing up other hotspots of SMS spam in a crackdown announced today by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

The police action comes after an ICO campaign to eradicate the practice which they say is distressing to recipients. In a survey also announced today, the ICO said that 95 per cent of people are concerned, inconvenienced or distressed when they receive spam texts and the unsolicited messages often about insurance claims have landed some of them into trouble.

The ICO's Director of Operations, Simon Entwisle, said:

We’ve raided one office, visited various others and are still actively working with mobile phone networks to trace various locations.

We have a good idea about who is behind the messages and we continue to gather evidence to enable us to take enforcement action. So far these individuals have managed to cover their tracks but we’d encourage anyone with information to come forward.

Spam texts are usually sent from unregistered pay-as-you-go SIM cards, but telecoms companies have helped the police by tracking the locations from which clusters of texts have been sent. Sometimes data thieving is involved too – with people's numbers filched from other companies databases, or even sold on. The ICO is separately investigating data protection polices of insurance and accident ligitation companies. Often though, phone numbers are just randomly generated. Spam texting is a fineable offence, carrying a penalty of up to £500,000.

An ICO survey published today shows that spam texts can cause significant distress to recipients. Out of 1,014 respondents, 681 people said that receiving a text caused them concern. They felt troubled about why they had received the text and how their details had been obtained. 205 people said that it was inconvenient, while 61 respondents said the text had caused them substantial damage or distress. Though 12 people said they actually found the texts helpful.

A page on the site lists some of the worst experiences of the people victimised by spam texters. For one person, a bogus text got them into trouble in the office:

I received the text while in the company of my manager on my work phone which I am not allowed to use for private calls. My manager now believes that I am pursuing a claim against the company for a recent injury and this has caused bad relationships between us. Please act now to protect individuals from these vultures.

Another writes:

I made the mistake of texting STOP to the first message I received – now I am getting 4 or 5 a day. It is irritating and intrusive. I have been told the only way to stop it is to change my phone number!

Entwisle advised recipients to never reply to spam texts. ®

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