The Federal Communications Commission has now officially passed rules to require telecommunications operators to block suspicious text messages, calling scam and spam SMS “an increasingly pervasive consumer threat.”
The FCC said that it has seen robotext complaints from consumers rise more than 500% in recent years, from about 3,300 in 2015 to 18,900 in 2022. Those scammy texts about a supposedly missing package or a problem with an account “pose a unique threat to consumers,” the agency said in a release.
In its order, the FCC noted that “data shows consumers read nearly all texts, and do so nearly immediately; whereas calls from unknown callers are often ignored by consumers.” While scam texts also invade customer privacy and can be a vehicle for fraud or identity theft like robocalls can be, the agency said that scam texts go beyond spam/scam calls in that they can provide a direct link to legitimate-looking phishing sites or download malware directly onto a user’s device.
Last month, there were nearly 360 million robotexts sent per day—and 575.5 million on the weekends in February 2023, according to Robokiller. The five states in which the most consumers are receiving robotexts are California, Texas, Missouri, Florida and New York, the company found.
The rise in scam texts is directly resulting in more consumer fraud losses—an estimated $231 million for the first three quarters of 2022, according to figures cited by the FCC, up from $86 million for all of 2020.
The newly passed rules require mobile network operators to block, at the network level, texts that appear to come from North American Numbering Plan (NANP) numbers on a reasonable Do-Not-Originate (DNO) list. That list includes texts that claim to be from “invalid, unallocated, or unused numbers” or numbers for which the subscriber using that number has asked for originating texts to be blocked. So a government agency like the IRS, which never sends texts, could ask for texts to be blocked that purport to come from phone numbers used by the IRS.
The blocking rules would not apply to over-the-top messaging applications such as WhatsApp, iMessage and RCS services.
As part of its action, the FCC is also seeking comment on additional rules to target and prevent robotexts—including closing what it calls the “lead generator loophole”, which lets companies rely on getting a consumer to consent once in order to send robocalls and texts from multiple (“perhaps thousands,” the FCC says) marketers.