2010-09-10 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Unsolicited Text Messages
By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER In the battle between telemarketers, who are looking to make a sale, and consumers, who often wish to be left alone, consumers have been winning in recent years.

The widespread use of Caller ID, the implementation of enhanced state and federal restrictions on telemarketing, and the extremely successful Do-Not- Call law have largely put an end to frustrating mealtime interruptions, disruptive late night and early morning calls, and annoying robocalls.

Despite these successes, some unscrupulous telemarketers and scammers have begun to use unsolicited text messages to make their sales pitch, or in some instances, commit fraud. Thankfully, consumers are protected by existing telemarketing regulations, and cellphone service providers now offer tools that allow customers to block most unwanted messages.

First, it is important that cellphone users are aware that, with very few exceptions, unsolicited text messages are prohibited by the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which, among other provisions, prohibits the use of auto-dialing devices to send commercial text messages to cellphones. Since nearly all unsolicited commercial text messages are sent using autodialers, such messages are effectively banned. In addition, consumers are further protected by the Do-Not-Call law, which prohibits marketers from sending text messages to cellphone numbers listed on the registry. There is an exception for cellphone service providers, which are allowed to send text messages to their customers, provided that there is no charge to the customer. Haven’t registered your cellphone number yet? There are two methods for registering your number.

You can register online with a valid email address at www.donot call.gov or from your cellphone by calling 1-888-382-1222.

Concerned consumers may also take advantage of new tools developed by cellphone service providers to help stem the tide of unwanted text messages.

Most major carriers now offer free blocking services, which allow customers to prevent messages sent from particular phone numbers, e-mail addresses, or Internet domains from reaching their inbox.

These services also generally provide customers with the ability to ban all text messages originating from the Internet or e-mail addresses, since these distribution channels are preferred by senders of unsolicited messages.

Many service providers make it easy to sign up for these services through customer account websites.

Contact your provider for more information.

Finally, when it comes to reducing the amount of unsolicited texts you receive, prevention really is the best medicine. In addition to registering your number on the Do-Not-Call list, be sure to keep it private. Prior to submitting your cellphone number through any website, read the privacy policy and any fine print that may appear on the form used to transmit your information to ensure that the company will not share your number with third parties.

Despite the protections and safeguards described above, it is, unfortunately, likely that most cellphone users will, on occasion, receive an unsolicited text message.

In order to assist enforcement authorities in their efforts to enforce the law and bring violators to justice, it is important to file a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, which generally must gather several complaints regarding a particular sender of unsolicited messages before commencing an investigation.

To file a complaint, you may contact the Commission at 1-888-225-5322 or http://esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm.

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