Data Doctors: When not to reply ‘STOP’

Q: Does replying with “STOP” on unwanted text messages really work?

A: If it feels like you’re getting a lot more text messages these days, both legitimate and questionable, it’s not your imagination.

Every study on text messaging shows that people respond at a significantly higher rate and much quicker to text messages than phone calls or emails.

To illustrate this difference, check to see how many unopened email messages you have versus your unopened text messages.

This data is encouraging both legitimate companies and scammers to step up their texting activities.

When it is safe

In many cases, the message may include instructions to reply with “STOP” to stop getting messages from them in the future.

If you know you signed up for the service through your pharmacy or bank for instance, replying with “STOP” will work.

When it is not safe

If the message is clearly a scam or an attempt to phish information from you, replying with “STOP” is not only ineffective, it’s an invitation to be bombarded by lots of junk messages in the future.

Scammers are mimicking legitimate marketing verbiage in hopes of tricking you into responding.

When they get the “STOP” response from you, they will know that your phone number is both active and responsive. This will lead to your number getting placed on an active list that is sold and resold countless times among the bad actors.

It’s very much like the junk email “unsubscribe” scams that I’ve written about in the past.

When you aren’t sure

Since there is no bulletproof method to determine if a text message is legitimately from someone you’re doing business with just by reading it, when you aren’t sure, you’ll need to do a little investigating before deciding what to do.

If the message came from what is known as a short code (5 to 6 digits) instead of a standard 10-digit phone number, there are ways to search for the owner of that short code.

Unlike regular phone numbers, short codes are much more difficult to spoof, so looking them up in the U.S. Short Code Directory will help you determine who is behind the message.

Another option is to do a Google search using the short code such as “text from 93733,” which, in this case, would provide links that show it’s a code used by Wells Fargo.

If you can’t determine who is behind the short code, the safest approach would be to block it in your messaging app and delete the message.

Reporting scams and spams

One thing that we can all do collectively to fight this growing problem is to report bad messages to carriers by forwarding the message to 7726 (which spells SPAM). This is a universal reporting system, so it works with all of the U.S. carriers.

It’s important that you forward the message exactly as it came to you without adding anything or removing any part of it. The quicker we all do this, the quicker the carriers can stop the message from reaching others on their network.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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