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Cell phone spam: a growing problem

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Regulators are trying to find new ways to combat the growing problem of cellphone spam.

Email ads for Viagra or messages from nonexistent Facebook friends might be past its prime. Now, spammers have their sights on a different target: cellphones.

Spammers targeting cellphone numbers sent around 4.5 billion spam texts last year, nearly double the amount sent in 2009, according to the market research firm Ferris Research. And the problem is getting worse because it is difficult for authorities to catch the culprits.

The New York Times reports:

"Unsolicited text messages is a pervasive problem," said Christine Todaro, a lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission, the consumer watchdog agency, which is turning to the courts for help. "It is becoming very difficult to track down who is sending the spam. We encourage consumers to file complaints, which helps us track down the spammers, but even then it is a little bit like peeling back an onion."

And the types of spam being sent out are more disruptive for consumers.

There is spam that can sign you up for a never ending service if you tap the wrong key on the phone pad. There is also spam that asks consumers to take a survey and divulge what one think is useless information like yearly salary, favorite vacation spot or addresses. This information can be sold to digital marketers and can be used to crack personal accounts.

To combat the problem, the mobile industry recently joined with a maker of antispam software called Cloudmark that lets users report spam messages. Once reported, carriers can block the number.

Two federal laws have been enacted to combat illegal spam, too: the 2003 Can Spam Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The Federal Trade Commission and most cellphone providers also encourage consumers to report the spam numbers on their websites.

But these efforts may not be enough. The New York Times reports that "spammers are turning to large banks of phone numbers, regularly changing the Web sites they try to get consumers to click, and blasting their messages from the Internet using 'over the top messaging systems,' which let them send millions of messages cheaply. The moment a carrier blocks one number, spammers simply start using another."

Cellphone spamming is said to be a lucrative business. But because cellphones use is ubiquitous, it is a problem that needs serious attention.

Spam Invades a Last Refuge, the Cellphone  [NYTimes]

Photo via flickr/Wowbagger, the Infinitely Prolongedcellphone

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Amy Kraft

Weekend Editor

Contributing Editor Amy Kraft is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for New Scientist and DNAinfo and has produced podcasts for Scientific American's 60-Second-Science. She holds degrees from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure