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Spam Invades a Last Refuge, the Cellphone
08 Apr 2012 EDT - The New York Times
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Text message spam has started waking Bob Dunnell in the middle of the night, promising cheap mortgages, credit cards and drugs. Some messages offer gift cards to, say, Wal-Mart Stores, if he clicks on a website and enters his Social Security number.

Once the scourge of email providers and the Postal Service, spammers have infiltrated the last refuge of spam-free communication: cellphones. In the U.S., consumers received roughly 4.5 billion spam texts last year, more than double the 2.2 billion received in 2009, according to Ferris Research, a market research firm that tracks spam.

Spread over 250 million text message-enabled phones, the problem is not as commonplace as email spam. But it is a growing menace, with the potential for significant damage.

“Unsolicited text messaging 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.”

Although some text spam is of the harmless, if annoying, marketing variety, a vast majority is more insidious, experts say. With one mobile tap, smartphone users risk signing up for a bogus, impossible-to-cancel service.

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