How to avoid falling for text message scams

The UK government has issued guidelines on how to spot unscrupulous firms who use mobile phones and the Internet to rip off consumers

On Tuesday the UK government launched a campaign to crack down on the worrying rise in high-tech scams.

Warning that criminals are increasingly turning to the Internet and mobile phones to fleece the public, consumer affairs minister Melanie Johnson said that many rip-offs try to con people into calling a premium rate mobile telephone line or fax number.

Such scams can take the form of text messages that tell recipients they have won a large cash prize and must call a premium rate number to claim it, without disclosing that the prize is actually a holiday voucher and that callers must correctly answer a question before winning.

One case flagged up by the government concerned an unsolicited text message that included the phrase "I fancy you" and invited the recipient to find the sender's identity by calling a premium rate number. According to telephone regulator ICSTIS (Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services), the company that sent the SMS failed to clearly show the call charges.

Other scams have seen hotels and restaurants asked to fax their menus and prices to what turned out to be a premium rate number.

In an attempt to protect consumers, both the government and ICSTIS have published advice on how to detect and avoid such scams.

Spotting a scam

  • The approach, whether in writing, by phone or email, is unsolicited.
  • There is a very short time in which to respond to claim a prize.
  • It is an invitation to send a "processing" or "management" fee to claim a prize.
  • It is an invitation to purchase goods to obtain a prize or reward.
  • It is an invitation to use premium phone lines.
  • The source of the promotion is based overseas.
  • It is in invitation to send money out of the country, particularly to the Netherlands or Canada.
  • Prizes are expressed in foreign currency.
  • It is an invitation to provide credit card or bank account details.
  • Rewards are wholly dependant on persuading others to join a scheme.
  • Premium rate services generally begin with the numbers 090.
  • Premium reverse bill text messages usually contain a 4 or 5 digit short code number to reply to.

The bottom line, according to ICSTIS, is to always read all promotional material, including any terms and conditions, and if in doubt do not reply or call the service

How to avoid scams

  • Call-barring arrangements for premium rate services are available from most telephone companies if you do feel a need to control household access to such services.
  • You can register with the Fax Preference Service to stop receiving unwanted commercial faxes.
  • You can register with the Telephone Preference Service if you want to stop receiving unsolicited SMS and telephone marketing messages.
  • All premium rate services should advise you of the price before you access them.

More tips can be found at -- Web a site run by Trading Standards.

Details of what to do if you have fallen victim to a scam can be found here.

See the Net Crime News Section for the latest on fraud, crime, child protection and related issues.

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Go to the Security forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.