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July 2002

Mixed Messages

SMS Missieves–from Love to Lust

Like many, you probably wake up in the morning, yawn, stretch, roll over and turn on your cell phone. A smile spreads across your face when you hear the wonderful “beep beep” that alerts you to the fact that you have received an SMS. Ah, the joys of text messaging. “How will I ever be able to return to America?” I think as I lie in bed, staring up at the ceiling. A country where almost anything is possible, I muse, the United States is really losing the technological race. With “teletext” pages on its televisions, an almost exclusive use of automatic transfer banking—when was the last time you saw someone write a check?—and SMS text messaging, Germany offers convenience unheard of in the States. In fact, I have grown so dependent on the SMS system that the prospect of a life without it seems bleak. Great for meeting people, engaging in light flirtation, arranging a rendezvous or just sharing a quick thought, SMSing encourages human interaction. “Want to grab dinner later?” “Sleep well!” “Let’s change meeting time to 7 pm…see you then!” It never occurred to me that the day would come when I would receive an unpleasant message. Unfortunately, that day came. The number was anonymous and the text was, well, perverse. I grimaced, looked around furtively (I wonder why we do this) and quickly deleted it. A week later, I received another sexually offensive note from the same number. I briefly considered replying and telling this person what I thought of them, but shrugged it off again, hoping the filthy animal would find new prey. Luckily for me, it did stop. A friend of mine, however, was not so lucky—she received repeated obscene messages, all from one number. She responded in vain and eventually changed her number. What my friend didn’t realize was that, in replying to these obnoxious messages, she was exposing herself to a possible debt of up to € 300. The Interessenverband Deutsches Internet (German Internet Users’ Organization) recently issued a warning to inform cell phone users that they should be wary of messages from numbers they do not recognize, especially those that read: “Wo bist Du? Bitte melde Dich!” (Where are you? Please call me!) and “Herzlichen Glückwunsch! Sie haben eine Reise gewonnen.” (Congratulations! You’ve won a free trip.) If you press reply, you will get a nasty surprise—the call will be rerouted to a 0190 number and you’ll be expected to foot the bill. The IDI receives more than 1,000 written complaints each month from cell phone users experiencing these problems and the only advice they can give is: DO NOT REPLY! The companies behind these evil emails rent a 0190 number with a provider and can send you an SMS that, just as with a phone call, you are unable to block. Obviously, these companies are clever and know what they are doing—some even manipulate the system so that the digits 0190 do not show up. The figures may be tacked on to the end of the phone number rather than at the beginning, or are simply omitted. One of the main reasons that this practice continues to flourish is that the 0190 swindlers get their money from the mobile phone providers, who, in turn, receive a generous cut themselves. As a result, your particular provider will not give you the name of the company who has sent you the unwanted SMS, and even if you go so far as to look for the number under the home page of consumer complaints (, the companies will deny involvement. So what can be done? Unfortunately, nothing. These companies are virtually unstoppable. If, however, your next cell phone statement reveals charges for more than several hundred euros over the usual amount (bear in mind that 01908 numbers currently rank among the most expensive toll numbers), you should pay for your legitimate phone calls only. Or, if your money is deducted automatically, you can go to the bank and ask to have the extra money recalled. The possibility of taking legal action also exists, but this, of course, could take a while. Coincidentally, as I was in the middle of writing this article, an SMS popped up on my screen. The message, which was in German, read: “I have fallen in love with you and must finally say it! Do you know who I am? You know me very well! Call back, kisses, PT.” It was a 0190 number. Aha! I thought triumphantly. Delete, sucker! But later, settled back at my desk, I caught myself glancing wistfully at my cell phone every so often. Why do all the romantic ones have to be hoaxes?

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