Please note: The following information has not been updated since the Data Protection Act 2018 became law. Although there may be some subtle differences between the guidance on this page and guidance reflecting the new law – we still consider the information useful to those in the media. This guidance will be updated soon to reflect the changes.
Spam texts are marketing text messages (also known as SMS) sent to you without your consent.
Not all marketing text messages sent without consent are spam marketing texts. Marketing text messages can be sent without prior consent by organisations who obtained your email address when you bought something from them and are advertising similar products or services. However, these marketing text messages must abide by strict rules regarding their content and provide you with the opportunity to opt out.
What does the law say?
The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 cover the sending of text message marketing. This legislation says that organisations must only send marketing text messages to individuals if you have agreed to receive them, except where there is a clearly defined customer relationship.
The ICO can only investigate concerns about marketing text messages from identifiable UK senders. As a lot of spam texts come from outside the UK, the Information Commissioner has an agreement with a number of overseas bodies to cooperate and exchange information to try and stop spam texts that are sent from those places.
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 marketing texts?
If you receive marketing by text that you don’t want from an identifiable and legitimate UK based organisation that you know and trust, you should first follow the opt-out instructions provided on the text – which typically involves texting ‘STOP’ to the telephone number or 5-digit short code shown in the text message. The organisation should then stop sending you marketing texts. Legitimate, well-known companies will offer opt-outs, and in many cases things can be resolved quickly without us getting involved.
However, if you continue to receive marketing text messages from the organisation despite following the opt-out instructions you may wish to report this to the ICO:
You should not respond to the marketing message if you are unsure who it comes from or if it doesn’t come from a company you are familiar with. This is because by responding this may confirm your number is live. You can report receipt of these text messages to the ICO:
The ICO deals with marketing texts. If you are receiving texts that you are being charged for you can contact the Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA). 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.