How SMS spammers and sales agents get your number

Many South Africans receive unsolicited SMS messages and calls from sales agents, and wonder where the companies behind them got their number.

MyBroadband asked industry players where SMS spammers and sales agents get the numbers from, and the feedback was revealing.

Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy said there are various ways through which third parties can obtain mobile numbers.

This includes a business card dropped at a conference or filling your contact details in a registration form for a campaign or competition.

Kennedy said “data can be collected by tracking devices (like cookies) on websites that allow a company to monitor people’s activity on the web”.

Apps that customers download on their mobile devices can also be used to look up their contact list and location.

Eddie Moyce, MTN Chief Customer Experience Officer, said many companies that send SMS spam get the customer information from organisations which sell demographic data to third parties.

“Some of these companies include credit bureaus which house extensive data of economically-active consumers,” said Moyce.

A recent Moneyweb report stated that list brokers are often used by companies, which buy or rent contact lists from them.

List brokers build up contact lists from many sources, Moneyweb reported, like social media campaigns and opt-in competitions.

Other methods include “websites where you can register to receive loan offers or promotional deals, credit bureau updates, public domain information, and using call centres to update existing consumer information”.

Using public domain information

A 2013 SMS spam complaint revealed that people’s mobile numbers, to which unsolicited messages were sent, may have been obtained from public sources like the Deeds and CIPRO databases.

Mark Hinnings, Client Relations Manager at Blue Label Data Solutions, said in 2013 that they use public domain data to gain access to mobile numbers for their SMS campaigns.

“There are various ways to obtain consumer data, public domain being the source we mostly obtain our data from. I requested to search for both Deeds and CIPRO information and found the information is listed on both databases,” said Hinnings.

In a follow-on interview with MyBroadband, Hinnings said the public sources may not list mobile numbers, but contain identifiable information like ID numbers.

The company can then use the ID number to consult the credit bureau to obtain information like mobile numbers.

After this, the mobile numbers can be used to send SMS messages to the person.

Be careful who you provide your details to

WASPA (Wireless Access Service Providers’ Association) said local consumers are routinely asked to provide their cellphone numbers when they do business with public and private organisations.

There are usually terms and conditions that state the number may be used for marketing initiatives.

Some terms and conditions even state that the information may be provided to third parties and other affiliates for marketing purposes.

Consequently, some companies use data collected from consumers when they interact with them.

“In other situations, companies purchase databases containing cellphone numbers from third party companies that have collected consumer data with terms and conditions that declare that they may share the information,” said WASPA.

WASPA urged consumers to review all terms and conditions when personal information is being provided.

Mobile operators do not sell data

Kennedy said a general assumption people make is that mobile network operators give out customer data. “That is not the case,” he said.

“In select instances, we share data where this is required to deliver products or services requested by the customer and the customer has consented to such sharing.”

Telkom’s Managing Executive of Group Communication Jacqui O’Sullivan said they do not provide any third parties with information about their subscribers.

“Telkom does, however, market its own products and services via SMS to customers who have requested to receive information via this platform,” she said.

What to do when you receive SMS spam

Consumers who do not want unsolicited SMS spam can approach the company sending it and ask them to exclude them from their database.

“The industry term for this is opt out,” said Moyce.

O’Sullivan said if you receive SMS spam from organisations which you have not shared your details with, you can lodge a complaint with WASPA.

Vodacom said its customers can call the customer care line on 082 111 and provide the number they have received the spam SMS from, and it will unsubscribe the customer.

“Consumers can also register their details with the Direct Marketing Association to opt out of all marketing communications,” said Kennedy.

More on SMS

Vodacom, MTN subscribers illegally charged by spam SMS advert

Spam SMS – why South Africans pay to reply “Stop”

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How SMS spammers and sales agents get your number