The FCC is cracking down on scammy robotexts. What that means for you

Jon Healey, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

How many text messages have you received lately about a missed delivery of a package you didn't order? Or a prize you've earned for being a loyal customer of a company you don't use? Or a nonexistent withdrawal just made on your account?

Bogus messages like these have skyrocketed in recent years as scammers have shifted from robocalls to robotexts — in part because the feds were forcing phone companies to shut their networks to robocalls. The legal landscape is changing, however, in a way that should make it tougher for fraudsters to invade your message queue too.

That's tougher, not impossible. Scammers are a notoriously resourceful bunch.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a rule that requires mobile phone companies to block texts that are "highly likely to be illegal." That includes texts from spoofed or non-working numbers, which spammers frequently rely on for their bulk messages.

The robotext problem has grown dramatically; according to Robokiller, which makes spam-blocking technology, Americans received more than 225 billion unsolicited texts last year. That works out to more than 700 per smartphone user.

The scams are particularly dangerous, the commission warned Thursday, noting humans have a hard time not reading incoming texts. In addition to peddling get-rich-quick schemes and other nuisances, robotexts may be used to trick people into revealing sensitive personal information or installing malware.


The new rules won't go into effect for several weeks, and a follow-up set of protections from the FCC are still awaiting public comment and a final vote. In the meantime, there are steps you can take to spare yourself the misery of hearing your phone's incoming text notification chime, only to discover it's yet another fake notice from FedEx.

The new rules

The commission applied some of the same techniques to spam texts as it has used to deter spam calls. Once the newly approved order takes effect, mobile phone networks will be required to establish a "reasonable" Do Not Originate list of numbers that will not be allowed to send text messages, similar to the list they must maintain for phone calls.

At a minimum, the Do Not Originate text list will include numbers that are invalid or not yet assigned in North America. Individuals and organizations whose valid numbers are used by spammers to disguise the real source of their texts can also have their numbers placed on the list.


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