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Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Is 97885 really Vodafone?

The UK's premium rate SMS (text messaging) business is worth over £1 billion per year. It's not surprising then that scammers are in on the act, looking for a slice of that revenue.

These premium rate numbers are use "SMS shortcodes" - but these shortcodes can also be used for non-premium rate (or free) numbers. So how can you tell which is which?

Take this one for example - a text message sent to Vodafone customers that says the following:

From 97885
From Vodafone: Service Enquiry. We are always looking to improve our service. Please help us by answering 2 questions. Reply Yes to start, all replies are free.

On the surface, it all looks pretty legitimate. But wait.. isn't this the kind of approach that scammers use? There have been several cases where spammers can work out your mobile phone network, and who can tell if 97885 is a premium rate number or not?

Well, one organisation that should know is the stupidly named PhonepayPlus body (formerly ICTIS) that is meant to keep track of these premium rate texts. They have a service called SMSus which can look up a premium rate SMS number by text (why they can't do this on the web is a mystery).

So, does sending the 97885 number for SMSus help? No.


From 76787
From SMSus: No info held about this number. Have a concern? Call 0800 500 212 open 8-6, Mon-Fri. Calls free from landline, mobile network charges apply.?
So, pretty useless. Eventually though, a response to an online support call to Vodafone indicates that 97885 is Vodafone, and it is free.

But surely the problem here is that the system is so fundamentally broken that no-one can tell a real messager from a scam? Perhaps it is time that whoever is actually responsible for regulating this mess comes up with an easy way to identify the true owners of SMS shortcodes and can say how much they may cost.

2 comments:

Flora said...

Thanks for this helpful post. I was also concerned that this was a scam--what a shame that SMS standards haven't thought of a structure to avoid this, since it's so common in email and phone scams!

a1lee said...

thanks also for that helpful post. I was also cautious about this text. I think it is a good idea for this kind of survey but there surely needs to a way of verifying the sender as it quite easily could be a scam. The only thing I could think of is that it the name and number is automatically stored in your contacts when you purchase the phone. It could easily be put in firmware or in a sim card if purchased sim free.
Lee W