March 11, 2008— -- Doug Fodeman of Marblehead, Mass., took his 13-year-old daughter Lauren to buy a cell phone — but even before she made her first call, the phone beeped. She had a text message.
"And when she opened it to read it — it was dumb blonde jokes," Fodeman said.
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Lauren never signed up for anything. But she was charged $10, anyway. Text messages are the latest tool to push everything from pills to porn — like the spam on your computer, but worse.
Most carriers charge a fee every time you receive a message.
Hugh McCartney runs San Francisco-based Cloudmark, a company that creates anti-spam software for carriers. He says 5 percent of the text messages in the U.S. are spam. But spammers have learned to generate thousands of numbers in seconds.
"Mobile spam is going to quadruple in the next year," according to McCartney.
Some spammers pretend to be your bank in order to get account information. Others advertise and hope someone will take the bait, like 13-year-old Alex Ford, of San Diego, Calif. She was just 10 years old when she was offered a cell phone screen saver.
"I just thought it was something cool and free," she said. "They shouldn't be able to rip kids off."
She ended up with $80 in charges.
Generally, it's parents who are left straightening out the charges. It took Fodeman three maddening months to get those dumb blonde jokes off the bill. The punch line? The spam keeps coming.
Fodeman now spends much of his time running childrenonline.org, a Web site devoted to issues surrounding children and technology.
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