The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

Spam texts

What does the law say?

The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 cover the way organisations send direct marketing by electronic means, including by text message (SMS).

Organisations cannot send you marketing text messages you didn’t agree to receive, unless:

  • the sender has obtained your details through a sale or negotiations for a sale;
  • the messages are about similar products or services offered by the sender; and
  • you were given an opportunity to refuse the texts when your details were collected and, if you did not refuse, you were given a simple way to opt out in all the text messages you received.

The Regulations do not cover marketing text messages sent to business numbers.

What can I do to avoid unwanted (spam) texts?

  • Be careful who you give your telephone number to.
  • Don’t advertise your telephone number, for example by putting it on the internet.
  • Check privacy policies and marketing opt outs carefully. Use them to tell the organisation not to contact you by text.

What can I do if I’m getting unwanted spam texts?

If you receive marketing by text message which you think breaches the Regulations you should write to or email the organisation concerned (remembering to keep a copy of all correspondence).

If you are unsure who the message comes from or if the message does not come from a company you are familiar with you should not respond to the message as this may confirm your number is live. If you know who the message is from, you can try to opt out from further messages by texting ‘STOP’ to the telephone number or 5-digit short code shown in the text message.

If you continue to receive unwanted marketing by text message you can report your concerns to us.

The ICO deals with marketing texts. If you are receiving texts that you are being charged for you can contact PhonepayPlus. They regulate products or services that are charged to users' phone bills or pre-pay accounts.

Text messages about accidents, debt management, PPI, pension reviews and pay day loans

We are aware that lots of people are receiving unsolicited text messages (SMS) relating to accident claims, debts, pensions or mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance (PPI).

The messages vary in content but will typically say that you are entitled to money because of an accident, debt, pension review or mis-sold payment protection insurance. You are then asked to text ‘stop’ or ‘claim’ in response to the text. We are also aware of a new type of unsolicited text message which is directed to an incorrectly named person, for example ‘Hi Shirley, get your £100 - £1000 funds today only. No checks, no fees’ or ‘Hi Tom here’s that site I was telling you about. Made £630 in the last week already’.

Who is sending the messages?

We believe the messages are being sent by lead generation companies – companies that are trying to find people who will respond so they can sell those people’s details to claims or debt management firms. The companies behind these messages are looking to earn money by selling these leads.

Where did they get my details?

In most cases we believe the companies sending the messages don’t hold any information about you – including whether you have actually had an accident, have debts or PPI – before they send you the message. Many of the people who have told us they are receiving these texts have never provided their mobile phone number to any organisations and have not had a recent accident or had any of the problems referred to in the text message.

We believe the companies sending the texts are randomly generating mobile telephone numbers and sending several hundreds, or thousands, of texts in the hope that a proportion may reach the mobile phone of someone who has recently had an accident, or been sold a financial product, and who will then reply.

Are these messages illegal?

The messages appear to breach the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations because they are being sent to individuals without prior consent and without identifying the sender. The messages also appear to breach other legislation and codes of practice.

What should I do?

The law says that any organisation looking to offer this kind of service must identify themselves when they contact you. The companies sending these messages are therefore breaking the law and we would therefore advise that you do not reply to these messages.

How can I stop receiving messages from these organisations?

You can report them to your network operator, who may be able to prevent further spam from the originating number. Unfortunately as the numbers often change, your network provider cannot guarantee to stop all unsolicited messages. You can either contact your network operator’s customer services, or forward spam text messages to 7726.

If you continue to receive these spam texts you can report your concerns to us.

Find out what the ICO is doing about spam texts in our Enforcement section