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Getting text spam? New service can help

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By Amy Gahran, Special to CNN

Unsolicited text messages from scammers, companies and political campaigns are illegal and annoying. But at least now they’re easier to report.

Recently all of the major North American wireless carriers have deployed a centralized spam-reporting service backed by GSMA, a global association of wireless carriers. This service collects information about spam complaints from all participating carriers into a common database, which may make it easier for carriers to identify spammers and take action against them.

According to GSMA, one feature of the new spam-reporting service is that it generates a data feed of spam reports that carriers can integrate into their network security measures.

It may be hard to tell whether this new system does any good. But it probably can’t hurt.

I just tested it. Here’s how it works:

When you receive a spam text message on your phone, forward that text to the shortcode 7726 (which spells “SPAM”). You’ll then receive an automated message from your wireless carrier, asking you then to enter the phone number from which the spam text was sent.

I first reported as spam a text message I received from the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. (To be clear, the Romney campaign did not spam me. I voluntarily signed up to receive its text updates. However, I had to test this spam reporting service with somebody’s text message, and I doubt that one spam report would do Romney much harm.)

The Romney campaign sends texts from a common shortcode (a short telephone number that’s leased by the U.S. government for texting programs — a use that is highly regulated). So when I responded to Verizon with the sender’s phone number, I received a response that said: “It is likely that your message came from a shortcode. Please return to the original message and reply STOP.”

OK, this might sound like the new spam reporting service didn’t really do anything — but actually it probably did the right thing. In the United States, any texting campaign that uses a shortcode has to obey strict rules. One of those rules is that if you reply “stop” to any message that came from a shortcode, it has to stop sending you messages.

Many mobile users don’t know this, so this is a good reminder first to try to unsubscribe. And also, it verifies that my test didn’t do Romney’s campaign any harm.

But many text-spam messages are sent from regular phone numbers, not shortcodes, precisely because shortcode use is so tightly monitored and regulated. Organizations that disobey U.S. shortcode rules can find their shortcode lease revoked, or their messages blocked by carriers.

Next I tested the spam-reporting service by forwarding to it a spam text I had received from an ordinary phone number. It claimed to be offering a Walmart gift card, but that was most likely a ruse.

After I got Verizon’s acknowledgment of my spam report and sent it the full 10-digit phone number of the spam sender, the system responded: “Thank you, we appreciate your assistance.” It also offered Verizon’s instructions for blocking text messages from a specific number.

This spam reporting service apparently doesn’t tell you whether any action was taken against the spammer you reported. So it’s a little unsatisfying in that regard. Also, this service is new, so it’s unclear so far what kind of difference it might make in the fight against spam texts.

However, forwarding spam texts to an easy-to-remember shortcode is a simple thing to do. So it might be a good idea to try using this service to report any spam texts that you receive. Let’s hope it helps.

Editor’s note: Amy Gahran writes about mobile tech for CNN.com. She is a San Francisco Bay Area writer and media consultant whose blog, Contentious.com, explores how people communicate in the online age. … The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of Amy Gahran.

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