Beware of SMS messages

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mobile phone users may expect to continue receiving unsolicited SMS messages from vendors offering a wide range of products and services despite an ongoing crackdown against this annoying practice.

According to the National Telecommunications Commission, regulators are powerless to stop parties from sending out thousands of text messages that offer recipients anything from cheap, collateral-free loans to real estate deals.

In a telephone interview, NTC Commissioner Ruel Canobas said such activities are beyond the ability of the government to regulate, since the messages are sent through private numbers that fall outside registered value-added service (VAS) providers.

The most common users of this scheme are banks or their commission-based agents, which send offers via SMS to mobile phone users offering salary loans or multipurpose loans at relatively low interest rates, sometimes free of collateral requirements.

The NTC can only regulate these so-called “push” broadcast messages if they are sent from VAS providers using four-digit codes, which refer to registered firms, Canobas said.

This other prevalent form of text spam that more mobile phone users are now complaining about makes use of “prepaid” numbers from private individuals that are virtually impossible to regulate, he explained.

The NTC’s ongoing clampdown was prompted by a Senate investigation where lawmakers took to task regulators and industry officials for failing to prevent abuses like spam messages.

Starting on July 21, broadcast messages must contain all the necessary information—description of service, tariff, frequency, a permit from the Department of Trade and Industry where applicable and an “opt out” command from the broadcast, under the new rules.

“Subscribers can choose not to receive broadcasts at any time by texting in a command free of charge,” the NTC said.

But these new rules do not cover and cannot stop the growing volume of text spam that go through prepaid numbers.

“In cases like these, we advise people to just ignore them,” Canobas conceded.


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