Monday, April 9, 2012

AT&T (was) negligent, so I (was going to) filling a complaint with the FCC

Update: I have since been contacted by an actual human, with a brain, at AT&T. Of course, this was only after I got a third message offering me the same $4.99/month service to block selected phone numbers. At that point I was just dejected and sent them a sad-in-tone note about what's happened to their customer service. At which point a human with a brain contacted me, apologized for the earlier debacle, and said he would deal with the spam text (and credit my account).

Recall that article I posted about the proliferation of spam texts—particularly the sentence in that article that purported that cell phone companies are supposed to be helpful in dealing with spam texts:
Mobile spam is illegal under two federal laws — the 2003 Can Spam Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which set up the Do Not Call Registry in 2003. The major wireless carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Bell Mobility and Verizon Wireless — all also offer ways to report the numbers on their Web sites and can block numbers. A number of apps for Android phones also promise enhanced spam text filtering.

Spammers, though, are endlessly inventive. Mobile carriers and filtering software can detect when a large volume of spam is sent from one phone number, and when the texts try to get someone to click on a Web site.

So spammers are turning to large banks of phone numbers, regularly changing the Web sites they try to get consumers to click, and blasting their messages from the Internet using “over the top messaging systems,” which let them send millions of messages cheaply. The minute a carrier blocks one number, spammers simply start using another.

Even before I read that article, I expected AT&T to be helpful (after all, why would you want to annoy your customers?) Keep in mind that I just signed a two-year contract with AT&T—I was off contract and could go anywhere, but I’ve been an AT&T customer since I’ve had a cell phone (i.e. for over a decade) and saw no need to switch, even as the brand name became associated with various other companies.

I pay AT&T for a whole bunch of minutes, most of which I don’t use. Fine. I accept the terms of that arrangement. I pay AT&T for a bunch of data that I don’t use, because I use more than the much lesser amount allowed on the next lowest plan. Fine. I do not pay AT&T for a texting, because I don’t generally text; I pay them $0.20 per text sent and received. I accept the terms of paying for texts sent, but I resent paying for texts received. I can’t control who texts me, so why should I pay for it? I’ve come to terms with paying for the odd text received, but I really, truly don’t see why I should have to pay for spam texts. And I don’t see why AT&T shouldn’t help me report and thwart spam texters.

So on March 22, shortly after I signed my contract, I received, and reported, a spam/phishing text message offering me a Walmart gift card. I asked AT&T to credit the $0.20 out of principle and also asked them to report this as spam. In response, AT&T offered to change my number for a $36 charge and also tried to sell me a $5/month service to select callers to block. Because it’s not like spammers change numbers and you can predict where the next spam is coming from. But I let it go, because I didn’t have time to deal with it. Until I saw the Times article and thought it was my civic duty to report this spammer. I imagined that AT&T would be interested in stopping this spammer, in protecting its customers from illegal phishing, etc., so I shot them an e-mail pointing out that their initial response to my concerns was not helpful; that I would like them to report that number; and that I would like my $0.20 back.

AT&T’s response was to—sit down for this—defend the spammer. Get an eyeful of this idiocy from Daniel D.:

Please be aware that these other companies aren't owned by AT&T. The other company may believe that you are interested in their messages. Please be aware that most of them send text messages to your number and if you don't respond properly (they normally include how to stop it), then they will continue to send you messages. I apologize that we are unable to waive those charges. Waiving this fee won't stop the other company from messaging you.

Are you f*ing kidding me? What doesn’t he understand about spam? Or does he think I'm stupid? Can you imagine if Google handled e-mail spam that way? If I never asked for this company's services, they have no business texting me. My cell is on a national Do Not Call registry!

Can you imagine elderly people at the end of phishing scams complaining to AT&T and getting this bullcrap in response?

I wrote back to thank AT&T for sending the same unhelpful information twice, even after I’d informed them that it was unhelpful the first time. I also informed them I would be reporting them to the FCC. Here’s what else I’ll do, if I get more spam texts: shut down the messaging option on my phone. I’ve thought about doing it anyway, because anyone text to that number (rather than my Google voice number) is an unsolicited text. My friends know where to find me. I’ve not done that so far because I didn’t mind swallowing the odd charge, but I’m getting to the point where I don’t want to turn an extra penny over to AT&T.

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