How to Block Spam Text Messages on the iPhone (or Any Phone)

Apr 9, 2013 - 19 Comments

Text Message icon Having been inundated with spam text messages and SMS lately on my iPhone, I went looking for a solution to put an end to it all. Though it’s not as simple as it should be, there is a way to block virtually all spam texts from ever reaching your phone, and it actually works. To do so we’ll have to go through the respective cellular carrier you use, but to understand why this proposed solution it’s helpful to understand the problem a bit more.

How Text Spam Works

Almost all text spammers use tons of mass generated phone numbers and user names on free services like Yahoo Messenger to bulk send texts outward. This is why text spam usually arrives from an address like “141008000″ or some other nonexistent number that can’t receive texts back, because it’s not coming from a real phone number, but instead some free web-based or messenger service. They then spam out to thousands of randomly guessed phone numbers in sequences that are attached to an email address for a cellular provider, like [random-phone-number]@[carrier-texting-email-domain] – this will look something like 5551112222@txt.att.net, and any email sent to that address will then arrive to that phone number as an SMS message. What the spammer then does is increment the numbers upward, meaning the next spam message will be sent to the phone number at 5551112223@txt.att.net and the next to 5551112224@txt.att.net and so on. This is all done automatically through scripting, and since the numbers and usernames sending out the spam messages are also randomly generated in bulk, it’s almost impossible to gather a list of them to put into the same type of block list that we can use to block phone numbers on the iPhone, and even if you did add them since they use so many different services it would hardly matter anyway.

Anatomy of text message spam

Knowing and understanding all of this, to block text spam you’ll need to go through your cell carrier provider and disable the email texting feature, thereby preventing your phones email address from being able to receive texts (If you didn’t even know that your phone number had an email address attached to it for receiving text messages, well you’re not alone there either, but it’s a fairly old feature that doesn’t get much use these days now that services like iMessages and WhatsApp are so commonly used).

Enough talk, let’s get blocking! Note that all of these options are account-wide, meaning if you and your family share an cell account, it will work to block spam for all numbers associated with that account.

Blocking Text (SMS) Spam with AT&T

I have AT&T so we’ll cover blocking text spammers through there first:

  • Go to http://mymessages.wireless.att.com and set up the account for your number if you haven’t done so yet – this is different than your standard AT&T account
  • Once logged in, go to Preferences > Blocking Options
  • Under “Email Delivery Control” check boxes for both “Block all text messages sent to you as email” and “Block all multimedia messages sent to you as email”
  • Next, under “Mobile number control” toggle the menu to “BLOCK” to prevent all incoming messages from YOURPHONENUMBER@txt.att.net from ever coming to your phone
  • Click “Submit” at the bottom to save the preferences

Block spam text messages with AT&T

Optionally, you can sent direct “Allow Lists” and “Block Lists” in the same menu, but again because the spammers are using random free services and domains, it’s very hard to track these directly and trying to create a block list is fruitless. On the other hand, if someone you want to communicate with actually does send you texts as emails, go ahead and add them to the allowed list.

Log out and enjoy your new text-spam free iPhone on AT&T!

Blocking Spam Texts on Verizon

  • Go to http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/myverizonlp/ and login to your Verizon account (register if you haven’t yet)
  • Go to Preferences and Text Messaging, then go to Text Blocking
  • Adjust settings to block from BOTH the web and from email

Note: without a Verizon iPhone handy we had to rely on second hand information for this from someone who isn’t the most technically savvy, but an older article from 2008 on the New York Times confirms the general method, though they suggest going to http://vtext.com instead, which now seems more like a general messaging portal.

Block Text Message Spam on T-Mobile & Sprint

Thanks to some additional information from the aforementioned NYTimes article, we can also block SMS text spam on Spring and T-Mobile:

Sprint:

  • Log in to sprint.com account, go to Text Messaging > Settings & Preferences > Text Messaging Options and disable email sending

T-Mobile

In depth instructions can be found on T-Mobile Support (thanks Warren!), but the basis is:

  • Log into the T-Mobile account and go to Communication Tools
  • Disable text messages sent from email

Note: If any readers have T-Mobile or Sprint and can confirm these instructions by leaving a comment with the correct method that would be fantastic, thanks in advance!

Once configured on your respective cellular carrier, you should never see one of these annoying messages again:

Text message spam on the iPhone

This includes even if you eventually have a phone other than an iPhone, whether that’s an old fashioned dumb-phone, a Windows Phone, Blackberry, or Android… as long as the carrier stays the same and so does your account, the settings change will follow you. If you do change cellular providers though, you will need to make the Email Text Message adjustments again for new cell carrier.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPhone, Tips & Tricks

19 Comments

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  1. Jared says:

    I appreciate this, but it’s disappointing this isn’t included in the My AT&T app that we can download onto the iPhone to just flip a switch in the app. I am surprised Apple hasn’t made this easier. For Android users there are a bunch of apps that block SMS and phone numbers for you… why not Apple?

  2. Alpert Roberts says:

    Don’t forget to register your phone number on the “Do Not Call Registry” list, it makes a difference and really helps.

    Do it online

    https://www.donotcall.gov/

    Or by calling from the number you want to add to the list

    1-888-382-1222

    Takes a few minutes but it’s so worth it. If you’re on a minute plan or pay for texts, it will save you money and also stop the annoying calls and texts!

  3. John says:

    Good information, thanks. Like the f-bomb in the reply. It’s a shame these d-bags bad don’t get messages back. Could you imaging how many messages they’d have to deal with if they did and everyone replied like that.

  4. JD says:

    Verizon Continued: You can block calls and message from up to 5 phone numbers at no charge.

    Expiration. Blocks expire after 90 days. Be sure to reapply the block if you wish to continue the service restriction. To permanently block numbers, subscribe to Usage Controls*.

    Limitations. You cannot block numbers within your account or non-10 digit numbers such as 911, 411 or #MIN (checks minutes used).

    *Subscribe to Usage Controls ($4.99/month) to permanently block incoming and outgoing calls from up to 20 U.S. or international phone numbers.

  5. opalikaris says:

    How about in Canada?

    Does it work with Telus, Rogers and Bell?

  6. James says:

    NOTE: If you have a job that you received pages via text from (many I.T. professionals like myself do) this option will probably block those as well.

  7. banger says:

    …. and Australia???

    • Matt says:

      These are USA carriers, but you’ll need to log into whatever your cellular carrier is for Australia and look for the similar options to disable SMS as email. Leave a comment when you get it!

  8. Gino says:

    How does this affect services like Pinger and Google Voice who forward texts to your phone? Don’t they use email as SMS?

  9. Shane T says:

    Does this block iMessages too?

  10. Eddie Van Ham says:

    Newsflash: The world exists outside of the USA.

    • Paul says:

      Absolutely, and we love out international readers! Nonetheless, about 85% of our readers are based in the USA and so are we, thus we have to rely on our international readers to contribute specific information for foreign carriers since we do not have access to them directly. Feel free to provide information pertaining to whichever your carrier is :)

  11. Jonas says:

    Also worth noting: sending spam texts is actually illegal. The Better Business Bureau has a form on their website that you can fill out that allows them to track the spam text and they actually trace IP addresses etc and places a very hefty fine on anyone found sending these texts. So aside from blocking them via your service provider, you can also hit these spammers where it really hurts them — their wallets.

  12. Peggy says:

    Dont no more

  13. Ross Papilla says:

    Thanks for the tip. I have AT&T and it works!

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