How “SMS spammers” get your number

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

A consumer lodged a complaint with the Wireless Applications Service Provider Association (WASPA) in July 2012, saying that he received SMS spam (aka unsolicited commercial message) promoting cellular services.

The two companies against which the complaint was lodged are Blue Label Data Solutions and Cellfind – both owned by listed company Blue Label Telecoms.

Blue Label Data Solutions explains

In his response to the SMS spam complaint, Mark Hinnings, Client Relations Manager at Blue Label Data Solutions, explained 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 your information is listed on both databases,” said Hinnings.

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

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

After this the mobile numbers can be used to send SMS messages to the person, with the option to opt-out of any further communications.

Mark Hinnings
Mark Hinnings

WASPA code of conduct spam battle

The complainant hit back, saying that the companies involved did not abide by WASPA’s regulations against unsolicited messaging.

WASPA’s prevention of spam code of conduct

Members will not send or promote the sending of spam and will take reasonable measures to ensure that their facilities are not used by others for this purpose.

Any direct marketing message is considered spam, unless:

  1. the recipient has requested the message;
  2. the message recipient has a prior commercial relationship with the message originator and has been given a reasonable opportunity to object to direct marketing communications;
  3. the organisation supplying the originator with the recipient’s contact information has the recipient’s explicit consent to do so.

According to the complainant Blue Label Data Solutions and Cellfind did not follow these guidelines.

Blue Label Data Solutions hit back, saying that “obtaining data from any source is not of a breach of any WASPA proviso”.

“Further, there was no confirmation that the complainants details were obtained from a specific source since the confirmation of the source was not known at the time and remain unknown to date,” the company said.

Blue Label Data Solutions highlighted that the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) states that a company sending SMS messages ‘provide you with details on how we obtained your cell number, and make provision for you to opt out on the National Opt Out register run by the DMA’.

According to the company it abided by these requirements, and is hence not guilty of anything illegal.

A legal expert substantiated Blue Label Data Solutions’ views, saying that “There is nothing stopping a person from obtaining information from the Deeds Office or CIPRO and there is nothing stopping a person from sending SPAM provided an opt-out method is offered for electronic communications”.

WASPA ruling

The WASPA adjudicator ruled that Cellfind and Blue Label Data Solutions have not adduced any evidence that the complainant consented to receive the message.

“Blue Label Data Solutions has essentially conceded that the message was likely unsolicited and therefore spam,” the WASPA adjudicator said.

Cellfind and Blue Label Data Solutions were fined R20,000 each for sending SMS spam messages.

Wickus du Plessis, Operation Manager (Finance & Legal) at Blue Label Mobile, said that Cellfind lodged an immediate appeal against the WASPA ruling.

“It is unclear why Cellfind would be identified or implicated as a ‘Service Provider’ without notice, since it had no involvement in this matter whatsoever.”

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How “SMS spammers” get your number