Saturday, October 30, 2010

Text Spam Made Its Debut on My Cellphone

On 26 October 2010, at 4:44pm, I received a text that appeared to come from 949-573-6338 that said:

"Eliminate up to 90 percent of your debt today - Really! Text Yes if you would like to know more. TXT No to opt out or Email your # to optout4@yahoo.com
-Survey"


My cellphone number is on the National Do Not Call List, which I believe also covers text messaging. So, these people violated that by sending me this unsolicited text.

There are many different ways they could have gotten my number. It could have simply been randomly-generated; they could have gotten it from a poor security set-up on my Facebook page; they could have illegally acquired it from stolen records from a financial institution I have dealt with in the past, etc.

Since I was out of the house when I got the text, I couldn't do an Internet search to find out who owns the number, but it was one of my Top Priorities when I got home.

As I discovered when I fired-up the old laptop, I wasn't the first recipient of this spam text. I found online posts about this on 800notes, Whocallsme, MrNumber, PhoneNoInfo and Callwiki.

Using the search engine at FreePhoneTracer, I discovered that this phone is registered as a landline through T-Mobile in Orange County, specifically San Juan Capistrano, CA.

According to T-Mobile Customer Service, this phone is registered to a business called "24 Hour Messenger Service". However, as the number does not show-up with the registrants' name and address in any Internet search I did, this seems to be a dead end, as messenger companies that actually want business would not have unlisted numbers. It could be that the phone does belong to this company and the phone is used by a courier while they are out on their rounds. Since there are a number of courier companies in that area offering 24 hour courier service, actually finding the responsible party would be time-consuming and cost me a bit of money in long distance charges.

There are also the possibilities that the number has been spoofed, so it isn't really coming from this number or the phone may have been stolen and is being used by spammers.

The email address given optout4@yahoo.com has been linked to other text spammers in the past. I found that the same email address has been used in text spam sent from 949-973-1664, 949-973-1668, 949-310-0727, 310-866-2097, 310-866-1846, and others. I also discovered that the website URL cuturdebt.com (now closed) has been referenced in past text messages associated with this email address.

Judging from these past examples, the spammers are physically located - or wish to appear to be physically located - in Southern California.
  • 310 is the area code for Malibu, Torrance, Beverley Hills, Santa Monica, Catalina and Western Los Angeles suburbs, California 
  • 949 is the area code for Laguna Niguel, Irvine, El Toro, Newport Beach, Corona Del Mar and Southern Orange County, California 
They also don't seem to stick to just one cellphone provider, as the numbers are each registered through a different company:
  • Registered through Paetec Communications, Inc. - Ca were 949-973-1664, 949-973-1655, 949-973-1659, 949-973-1668 and many others;
  • Registered through T-Mobile were 949-573-6338 and 949-310-0727;
  • Registered through Verizon were 310-866-2097 and 310-866-1846;

This list is by no means complete. I found more numbers registered through other companies, but I didn't want to write an encyclopedia today.

There are two possibilities I can think of:

  1. the individuals who are doing this are spoofing different phone numbers. Using one for awhile and then switching to another. However, it doesn't explain why the phone numbers all come from California. One would think that a spoofer would switch the area codes to appear to come from different states as they switched.
  2. these are real cellphones being used (likely registered to different people) that have been stolen and resold to the spammers to use. Either that or they registered to real people to use for the scam and switching to new ones when the old ones get their accounts pulled. Like the first example, this doesn't seem to make sense either, since it provides a name and address for law enforcement to track or for people to file complaints against.
So, there are problems with either of those choices and there could be a third possibility that didn't occur to me.

I wish I had more information, but I'm hopeful that this blog posting will find its way into the search engines, so people who receive these text messages will understand what is happening.

I tried to call the number (I blocked my number using *67, so he wouldn't know what number was calling him) and tried to speak to somebody to see if this was an innocent person whose phone number was being spoofed. I got their voice-mail, but their in-box was full and could not accept new messages. This may be the result of too many people trying to call the number to complain about being textspammed. By itself, that doesn't mean that the account-holder is innocent or guilty. However, if they were innocent, it would make sense for them to call T-Mobile and have their number changed, rather than draw the wrath of pissed-off spam victims. If they are guilty, they might be thinking that if they let the voice-mail fill-up and ignore the complaints, they can get away with it as long as they wish. But, that will only work unless some one decides to send a text to that number.

If you are on the National Do No Call List, you can file a complaint here.

You can file complaints to the Federal Communication Commission here.

If you live in the United States, you may file a complaint against the sender of this text spam by going to this webpage
https://esupport.fcc.gov/ccmsforms/form1088.action

Duane Browning
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