Archived Story

‘Spam text menace is growing’

Published 10:26am Friday, May 24, 2013

I was in third grade when I sent my first e-mail.

In a class full of about 30 students, my friend Caitlin and I were the only ones with the Internet.

Though our first messages consisted mainly of simple back and forth salutations, we thought we were the coolest kids in school. In a matter of 20-30 minutes, (anyone remember dial-up?) we could send a message across town. Mind you, this was before texting and cell phones had gained popularity – this was a big deal.

It cut days of transit time into a mere half hour, and best of all, it was free. You could send as many senseless messages as you wanted.

But these advantages soon lent themselves to a new form of an old menace.

Junk mail.

Pre-internet, these sort of unsolicited mailings were limited – at least in theory. Postage was required even for the most inane mailings, so those responsible for these pesky piles of mail had to foot the bill. So while the four to five daily credit card applications, political mailings or catalogues once seemed like one of life’s major annoyances, this was pale in comparison to what the digital world had in store.

It didn’t take long for junk mail to go digital. And like a virus in a weakened host, it spread like wildfire.

The new digital form took on a new name – spam, like the equally undesirable canned meat bearing the same name.

According to Wikipedia, the term came into common usage due to a trend among early Internet users to send the word “Spam” ad absurdum on early message exchange sites such as bulletin boards. The resulting effect would push off every other user’s comments and cause a major annoyance. These early techno geeks apparently chose the term as a nod to a Monty Python Flying Circus sketch where a shrill-voiced restaurateur rambles off menu options to a customer – most of which contained Spam. Egg and Spam. Egg, bacon and Spam. Egg, bacon, sausage and Spam. You get the picture.

But it appears that Spam has made its way to a new medium – cell phones.

I have received six spam texts today. In fact, one has arrived since I began writing this column.

Federal law mandates that replying “stop” to these senders legally obligates them to remove you from the list, much like the landline Do Not Call List.

But the problem is this only applies to reputable spammers, if they can be described as such. I tried this method today, only to get an immediate reply from my cell phone provider saying “not a valid address.” Like many junk mailers or overseas telemarketers, the senders of this message claiming my nonexistent credit union bank account has been compromised are not playing by the rules.

Seeing how I just got yet another spam text, from the same fake credit union at that, I figured I would share what I learned today.

Next time you get one of these, forward the message to 7726 (it spells spam on your phone).

This lets cell phone providers know about the problem sender, who will in turn use this information to help curb this growing problem.

It only takes a few seconds. Once you forward the message, you will receive one immediately back. All you have to do is reply with the number that sent you the unwanted text in the body of the message, and you are done.

I know it takes less thumbwork to just hit delete. The spam text menace, however, is growing. This may very well help cellular providers stop this problem before it spirals out of control.

From someone who receives hundreds of spam e-mails per week, if I could go back in time to slay the e-mail spamming beast before it proliferated – trust me, I would.

Wouldn’t you?

Nelson is news editor for The Outlook.