It's a silver lining of sorts...UK premium rate phone regulator ICSTIS has announced a major crackdown on operators fleecing consumers with automated spam messages which call their landlines encouraging them to phone a premium rate number to win a prize.
Often the prizes include cars, holidays or major cash awards but like email spam the offers are either wildly trumped-up or straightforward lies. The calls last some time and cost the consumers £1.50 per minute. It's a shameful but obviously attractive business model.
There are a few reasons to be (slightly more) cheerful here when comparing the problem to email. For starters, ICSTIS has noted an increase in the use of automated call equipment to carry out these scams but the levels we are talking about will never reach the epidemic proportions on landlines or mobiles that we have seen hitting our inboxes.
Why? Firstly there is a financial disincentive. The 16 companies who have suffered service closure and up to £100,000 fines from ICSTIS paid to send the messages. As such they need a far higher success rate than email spammers.
Secondly phone lines are traditionally more strictly regulated than email. Email and the internet were seen as the brave new world but as is often the case a lack of restrictive legislation, while liberating, did also give birth to a 'wild west' where email spam could happily spread.
Organisations such as ICSTIS are far better equipped to find out who the perpetrator is as the scammers cannot set up the premium rate numbers themselves. They effectively lease the number from a telecoms provider - and as such there is somebody liable for any abuse of that number.
It's a far less daunting proposition than following a complex string of dead ends through servers on several continents and wrestling with the complexity of laws across various regions in the pursuit of email spammers.
Far greater accountability means far less abuse.
But the comparison isn't all in favour of phone users – the two media are very different. If you get 500 spam emails per day it is annoying but with management it need not make email unusable. If you get five unsolicited phone calls, however, that can put a real dent in your evening's TV watching as well as leave you disinclined to answer every call.
As such it is something we need to keep tightly under control and ICSTIS is to be praised for its ongoing efforts.