How spammers get your cellphone numbers

Posted at 01/23/2014 12:59 AM | Updated as of 01/23/2014 6:36 PM

MANILA (UPDATED) - It seems no one is spared from receiving text messages from unknown people offering credit cards, "health cards" or alleged business opportunities.

The messages include: "Free premium assessment on Caritas Healthcard. Reply with name, age, address and preferred hospital if interested," or "Our company is now hiring. We are glad to look for a new business partner and associate."

These messages are called spam texts, which people dismiss as nuisance. But what people don't know is where the SMS senders got their personal phone numbers.

The SMS senders, also known as spammers, buy phone numbers and other private information by the bulk from unscrupulous employees of companies willing to sell them, for a price.

Spammer "Sasha," who sells real estate, said she and others like her buy around 5,000 to 7,000 cellphone numbers from certain companies.

The price ranges from P1,500 to P3,000 per transaction.

"Hindi tsamba ang pagtetext. May mga kumpanyang nagbebenta ng bulto-bultong listahan ng cellphone numbers natin," Sasha said.

"Ia-alok nila sa amin iyan, 'Uy may bago akong listing.' Bibilhin namin iyon. Iyung huli kong bili was P1,500 for 7,000 numbers."

Sasha said she buys her listing from telecommunications companies, a golf and country club, and others.

Aside from cellphone numbers, spammers also buy email addresses and other personal data.

Sasha said she sends spam text messages to earn a living.

"Kung makabenta, may porsyento pa sa kita pati ang taong nagbenta ng phone number," she said.

"Nakakairita man, kailangan kasi naming makabenta. Mag-text ka ng 100, baka may 10 magreply. Sa 10 magreply, baka may isang makabili," she added.

"Karaniwang gawain na ito ngayon ng mga taong nagbebenta ng iba't-ibang produkto. Pero tingin ko ipinupuslit lang ito ng mga pinagbibilhan namin at hindi talaga pinahihintulutan ng mga kumpanya," she revealed.

According to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), some banks use machines that can send thousands of messages for them.

"It's a marketing arrangement no different from billboards, or posters. There is a machine that can be legally purchased to send messages automatically. On the surface, hindi ito iligal, pero pinag-uusapan kung baka pwedeng magkaroon ng guidelines," BSP Assistant Governor Johnny Ravalo said.

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), however, said nothing can be done if someone already has your number. People, however, can report spam messages to the NTC.

But because of the millions of prepaid mobile subscribers, it is impossible to pinpoint the identity of the people who send spam text messages, the NTC said.

"First offense, itetext namin ng warning na huwag nang magsa-spam. Second offense, magpapadala na kami ng notice sa telco na i-block na yung number na yon. Of course he can just use another number. But that's the best we can do right now," said lawyer Ramon Nolasco, officer-in-charge of the NTC's Consumer Welfare and Protection Division.

SMS spam messages are illegal under the Cybercrime Law, which remains suspended following a temporary restraining order slapped by the Supreme Court.

The Data Privacy Act of 2012, however, sets penalties including imprisonment on the unauthorized processing or disclosure of personal information.