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Recently, I got a text message series on my phone. I say series because it was three texts sent from the same number one right after the other. Occasionally, I get spam text messages. I just forward them to Spam which is AT&T’s spam notification address. It reports that message and then I text back the spam number when AT&T replies. This was different. One stated a name and the cost and how to subscribe. The second was a sports trivia fact about Wilt Chamberlain from March 1962. Third message said, “Welcome! You will receive 3 msgs/week at 9.99/mo billed to cell. Reply…” Oh, no! Now what? I got so nervous that I stupidly replied to the text with “Spam” as I tried to forward the message to AT&T. That was a bad idea. It lets the spammer know that they had found an active telephone number. Finally, I got the Spam forwarding right, and AT&T’s system replied that it was a script and to reply STOP to stop the charges. I wasn’t happy about doing that, but I thought AT&T said to do it, so I did.

Later, I mentioned what happened to my husband. He wasn’t happy at all. Hubby was irritated more than usual because he knows that DeafBlind people can easily be targeted for these things because they can’t see everything with a braille display and may not realize what it is and just delete it thereby continuing to be charged monthly. Scammers anger him, especially when it also affects the disabled.  The first time was an accident, and I admit that it was stupid of me to respond, but it is easy to get confused about where you are typing in a message when you can’t see. Second time, though, I was doing what AT&T said to do I just told the spammer that they had an active cell number that they could spam as often as they wish, and probably sell my number to other spammers, too, as they often do. I was very irritated at these scammers because it happens a lot to and to just about anybody.

How did this happen? In this case, it is almost a legal way to scam due to the practice that AT&T allows called third-party direct billing. I am pretty sure Verizon has this practice, too. This practice allows a company to text you, and then they can direct bill you for their service. If done properly, you can get up to date news, weather, sports scores delivered to your phone several times a day. As long as you subscribe to it knowing that you will get charged a monthly fee and charged to your text messaging limit, it is perfectly legal. Of course, scammers will always take advantage of a loop hole. By creating a script that has a computer randomly dialing phone numbers and sending texts to these numbers, the scammers will eventually hit an active one allowing them to directly bill that active number for any fee they desire. It works because most people do not pay close enough attention to their phone bills to notice the extra fee at all or not until many months later. If the company stops charging before the consumer notices, the money is most likely theirs to keep. If not, AT&T may have to refund the money if you can show that you did text subscribing to the company’s service, and most likely, AT&T will never recover any money from the company which probably changes names and locations often to avoid detection.  It is called “Cramming”. FCC finally told AT&T and others, I guess, that they must stop this third-party direct billing by August 27, 2012. The scammers may very well be punching hard to get as many targets as they can before the loophole is closed. Well, that is until they find another loophole, anyway.

Being DeafBlind had nothing to do with me being targeted. There is no way for them to know that, but it does make it harder for me to notice and clear it up.  I did realize fairly quickly because I read those text messages carefully, and I check my bill carefully every month. You should do that, too. I need to be more careful about knowing where I am before I type Spam to make sure I am in the Forward address area and not the text message field. I also learned that even if AT&T sends me instructions that I should think carefully before I follow them. AT&T just “assumed” that I had requested the subscription normally. I say assumed because AT&T really wasn’t against this despicable scamming practice because they get a percentage of the fee for the third-party direct billing process. Hence the reason, the FCC had to step in and force them to do what is right to stop this “cramming” loophole. I definitely learned or was reminded that most scammers use scripts, so they don’t actually know if a particular number is real or active, so if I respond, I give them that information. It is like waving a white flag and saying to not just that scammer, but all scammers, “Hey, I am here. Come steal my money!”

How do I protect myself then? Well, I had to go to the AT&T store and turn on the free Purchase Blocker Option. You can’t do it from the web site or even find out about it anywhere. So, take my advice and go to the store and tell them what you want turned on to protect yourself. Now after August 27th, this way may not be available, but there are other ways for purchases to be made to your bill, so the Purchase Blocker Option will still be a good idea.

Also, the article I am going to share with you states to always read your text messages and reply “STOP” when you get one as the text will instruct you and even AT&T’s Spam Notification process will, but I think I like my husband’s suggestion better. Again, by replying form your cell phone with the text “STOP”, you are telling the scammer the phone number is real. You can bet that the scammer keeps a list of all numbers that he gets a hit. You can also bet the scammer will sell that list. So, we suggest that you go to AT&T and have the support person cancel that through their system. It will be less likely the scammer will be able to detect the live number from their side of rejected numbers. Either way, though, it will stop future charges. AT&T couldn’t remove the charge that was already there, yet because it had not been applied to my bill. I will have to wait until it shows up next month and have them remove the fee then. I will definitely go to have the charge removed once I see it on my bill.

It is a hassle, and being DeafBlind doesn’t help. I had to use help speaking with the store personnel, or I would have resorted to using my communication technology, iPhone and braille display. I am thankful I could do it somehow, though. I also hope you, my readers, will learn something from what has happened to me, so it won’t have to happen to you. Or, at least, if it does, you will be better prepared to deal with it.

 

You can learn more about this practice of “Cramming” here:  http://www.wisebread.com/are-you-getting-charged-by-a-text-message-scam

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