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FCC now requires cell carriers to block scam texts from sketchy numbers

FCC now requires cell carriers to block scam texts from sketchy numbers


New regulations force mobile service providers to proactively protect consumers by blocking robotexts from unused, unallocated, or invalid phone numbers.

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Illustration of two smartphones sitting on a yellow background with red tape across them that reads “DANGER”
The FCC is cracking down on the relentless deluge of spammy, automated text messages.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Regulators in the US have introduced new rules to combat the growing number of text messaging scams. Announced on Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) now requires that mobile service providers block automated text messages that are “highly likely to be illegal,” such as texts from unused, unallocated, or invalid phone numbers. This also includes blocking messages from phone numbers identified by government agencies or other organizations as not being used for texting.

Automated messages, or “robotexts,” have become frustratingly common, relentlessly clogging up our phones with unwanted and often scammy promotions. It’s almost impossible to block junk texts completely, and some spammers have gotten creative to stand out among the deluge — impersonating messages mistakenly sent to a wrong number or sometimes even seemingly sent from the user’s own mobile number. And as the FCC notes, these robotexts can also be dangerous if they link to websites that run phishing scams or infect a user’s device with malware.

The FCC reports that complaints regarding text message scams have risen by 500 percent in recent years

“These robotexts are making a mess of our phones,” FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “They are reducing trust in a powerful way to communicate.” The FCC says that complaints regarding text message scams have risen by 500 percent in recent years, reporting an increase from around 3,300 to 18,900 per year between 2015 to 2022. The commission claims that robotexts “pose a unique threat to consumers” as consumers are more likely to interact with scam text messages than robocalls, often reading messages immediately upon receipt.

A second FCC ruling requires that cell providers also establish a point of contact for text senders to inquire about blocked texts in the event that certain numbers are erroneously restricted. These new regulations could later be expanded as the agency is seeking “public comment on text authentication measures and other proposals” to block robotext scams, with one example from the commission proposing to apply Do Not Call Registry protections to text messages to allow those signed up to the registry to opt out of receiving marketing texts. 

The FCC is additionally proposing to close what’s known as the “lead generator loophole,” which allows companies to dispatch robocalls and text messages from potentially thousands of different marketers using a singular user consent, even on subjects that said user may not have expressed an interest in. The new blocking regulations will take effect 30 days after being published in the Federal Register and build upon existing protections against text scams that fall under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s limits against unwanted calls to mobile phones.