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Illegal mobile phone spam hard to stop

2012-04-11 13:32     Web Editor: Wang Fan comment
China's cell phone users received an average of 11.4 spam messages every week in the second half of 2011.

China's cell phone users received an average of 11.4 spam messages every week in the second half of 2011.

"One day, even if the whole world forgets you, the spam messages won't."

( -- An estimated 100 billion spam messages were sent out to China's one billion mobile phone users in 2011, with fraudulent messages topping the list of the spam, according to Qihoo 360 Technology Co.

With public frustration increasing over the rise of mobile spam, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued notice last month of a three-month campaign to screen group delivery services that send spam messages and to demand mobile phone operators to strengthen filtering systems.

However, it is no easy task to stamp out the spammers, since the practice is an important source of revenue for mobile phone operators, noted China Economic Weekly.

Phone users harassed

Liu Fei had just made a down payment on an apartment in Beijing when she was suddenly bombarded by unsolicited text messages from decoration companies, building supply shops and furniture stores, reported the China Economic Weekly.

Some even called directly, yet Liu had never given her mobile phone number to any of them.

Liu is among many people in China who have had similar experiences with spam messages from unknown sources.

According to the latest report released by the Internet Society of China, cell phone users received an average of 11.4 spam messages every week in the second half of 2011, a drop of 1.6 messages compared to the same period of the previous year. The number of those spam messages accounted for 22.6 percent of the total messages sent in six months.

Of them, fraudulent messages topped the list, with others involving advertising for shops, real estate, immigration agencies and financial services.

Some 65.2 percent of mobile phone users received false messages saying they had won a prize; 47.1 percent received messages promoting fake bills and 46.6 percent received messages pretending to be from a bank.

A rampant business

Zhao Jian (not his real name) is a sales manager at a company in Beijing, but his profession has been kept a secret to many people around him. Whenever he is asked about his job, Zhao will beat about the bush or occasionally answer that he is in the advertising business, reported the China Economic Weekly.

In 2005, Zhao learned about group messaging after entering a company that provides the service, which allows someone to send a message to many recipients at once at a very low cost.

According to Zhao, there were few such companies in Beijing at that time, but there are now hundreds. Though the industry is expanding rapidly, such companies can still achieve a turnover of tens of millions of yuan every year while employing fewer than ten employees.

Currently, Zhao's company, which he has registered with his friends, has an annual net profit of up to 2 million yuan (US$316,800) and has less than 50 employees.

Low cost is a key advantage, and the advertising method is appealing to clients such as real estate agents, small-scale training organizations and illegal service providers. In most cases, the spam messages show cell phone numbers that are non-local and cannot be called.

Messages with special numbers like 10086 or numbers starting with 106 or 125 are from providers that are licensed to send group messages, but the spam texts are probably from illegal transmitters using SIM cards, according to People's Daily.

As for the private information of the recipients, the companies can obtain it from different sources such as shopping malls and other service providers.

Few regulations

Spammers are often nefarious and the message receivers are constantly disturbed by them, yet the problem is difficult to bring under control.

Qiu Baochang, head of the lawyers' group of the China Consumers' Association, said that control of spammers has not been written into law, and that there are few regulations to refer to if someone hopes to file suit.

Many developed countries have already marched ahead of China with explicit policies on the issue, noted Qiu. In Korea, a spammer may be fined up to the equivalent of 180,000 yuan (US$28,512). In the US there is the Spam Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act that protect phone users' interests.

China could introduce international practices such as more anti-spam technology, increasing service fees and passing anti-spam laws and regulations like the US and Japan.

An unnamed manager at China Mobile revealed that even if the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology launches a campaign to screen group delivery services, actual enforcement is another issue, since mobile phone operators consider it a major source of revenue.

Software is available for mobile phones that can protect users from receiving spam messages. But as the spammer can simply switch to different phone numbers, the practice is still a long way from being stopped.

Last year, more than 10 billion spam messages were intercepted for 70 million users by security software.

It is advised that phone users who receive spam messages should report the number to anti-spam hotlines such as 12321 or other relevant Web sites.


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