Text messages are one of the most annoying forms of advertising I’ve ever encountered. There are probably a few people reading this post right now who know how to do it properly, but you’re in the minority.
Text spam is on the rise. 2.2 billion message in 2009, 4.5 billion in 2011 and experts say we’re in the middle of a boom that will top that.
Text message spam isn’t just annoying. It can cost you money and it can compromise your identity if you follow through.
The FTC is ready to crack down on text spammers, starting with those horrendous “Free Gift Card” offers.
In eight different complaints filed in courts around the United States, the FTC charged 29 defendants with collectively sending more than 180 million unwanted text messages to consumers, many of whom had to pay for receiving the texts. The messages promised consumers free gifts or prizes, including gift cards worth $1,000 to major retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target. Consumers who clicked on the links in the messages found themselves caught in a confusing and elaborate process that required them to provide sensitive personal information, apply for credit or pay to subscribe to services to get the supposedly “free” cards.
180 million texts and that’s just from the companies they’re charging. What gets me, is that people must be responding to these ads in droves for these companies to continue the practice. Some of them are very good at covering the true nature of the scam until it’s too late, but you’d think most of us would have learned our lesson by now.
The FTC notes that around 12% of mobile phone users don’t have a text plan, so simply receiving a spam message costs them money. And since the spammers pull phone numbers at random, there’s no way to prevent the texts from coming through.
It’s interesting to note that the act of sending the spam text isn’t what got these companies in trouble. The violated FTC rules only because they didn’t fully disclose the true nature of the business. Most “Free Gift Card” scammers, use the card as a lure to get you to fill out a variety of offers. These are usually affiliate deals, so the business gets a kickback on every offer. They also collect personal information, which they can then sell to a marketing company.
One person who was cited by the FTC, was already banned from sending spam texts back in 2011 after he “sent a “mind-boggling” number of unsolicited commercial text messages pitching mortgage modification services to consumers, and misrepresented that he was affiliated with a government agency.” He’s apparently back in action and could be facing a contempt citation for ignoring the original ban.
This is no laughing matter, but I couldn’t help it when I saw this man referred to as a “serial text message spammer” on the FTC press release. Sounds like a new TV villain.
For marketers, take this as a reminder to follow the letter of the law, the FTC and the rules of common sense when you use text messages to send ads to customers. Texting can be an excellent way of providing relevant brand information at exactly the right time, but the potential for misuse is huge, so think it through before you hit send.