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Payment protection tops list of SMS spam scams

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AdaptiveMobile, a company which spends most of its time filtering out junk SMS messages, has written up a list of the scams hitting GSM handsets, with mis-sold payment protection insurance topping the list.

The spam texts differ significantly from the usual email spam in being more direct, claiming intimate knowledge of the recipients' financial affairs, and obviously being much shorter. The top five all promise instant money, not from some unknown benefactor but from large companies from whom theft is morally permissible.

First up is mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance, with a message providing a detailed figure of compensation available. Payment protection was mis-sold in some cases, and many refunds have been given (though that has not stopped some people trying to make claims on their refunded policies), which makes the scam more believable.

Next up is a loan offer, followed by accident compensation and "new legislation" which will allow the punter to write off debts "instantly", with better-performing pensions rounding out the top-five list.

The SMS scammers provide exact figures for owed compensation for accidents, encouraging the recipient to justify such promises with selective memory or creative interpretation, which may also filter out the more suspicious types who wouldn't fall for the scam anyway.

Interestingly all the top five SMS scams end with variations on "to opt out text STOP", which is required of premium-rate text messages but has obviously become recognisable as the ending of any legitimate message. In this case replying would just confirm the validity of the phone number so should be avoided.

Spam SMS was previously not particularly widespread, just as cold calling was almost unknown in the UK, as the cost of making a call or sending a text was prohibitive. But these days the cost of communication has fallen to such a level that text spamming - sending hundreds of thousands of messages in the hope one will stick - is now financially viable.

For the network operators, spam texts present an interesting problem too, as they have a contractual responsibility to deliver messages which have been paid for. Ten years ago most SMS spam was sent from hacked SMS centres (routing nodes), but these days numerous operators offer unlimited texting so cost is no barrier – even if the sender is breaching the terms and conditions of the connection.

Those Ts&Cs also allow the operator to filter out spam, using filters from AdaptiveMobile or elsewhere, but they walk a path much narrower than their email-providing equivalents, and thus tend to err on the side of delivery, exposing all of us to ever more spam. ®

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