Be careful with free text alerts

You may have heard this message on a radio station in your city: “For breaking news text alerts, text the word ‘news’ to…” Or your bank may tell you how you can get free text alerts about your checking account. Is it a good idea to sign up for free text alerts from a business?

Yes and no. Yes, because texting on a cell phone is a great way to stay informed on a moment’s notice. And no, because you can end up on a “mailing” list and never be able to take yourself off that list.

A warning for consumers: text alerts are the latest technique in the “list generation” arsenal. Contests are one of the oldest methods of list generation. Whenever you receive or hear about an offer to participate in a sweepstakes, what that company really wants is your name and contact information. The offer of a prize is usually legitimate, but the reason a company holds a contest is to expand its contact list for direct mail offers, coupons and sales announcements.

That company may sell its lists to 50 other companies. That’s why you can never eliminate junk mail completely (either in your U.S. Postal Service mailbox or your e-mail box) unless you move or change your e-mail address and never, ever share your contact information again with anyone other than family and close friends who promise not to pass along your information without your permission.

Free text alert offers work in a similar fashion. Why would a radio station a newspaper, an Internet site or a bank offer to send you free text alerts? Because it wants you as part of a captive, interactive audience, and it may want to be able to sell your cell phone contact information as another source of revenue. A for-profit organization always has a profit motive. So if one day you feel like responding to that promise of free text alerts about traffic problems in your area, you could be stuck on a list forever, and you could receive dozens of unwanted text messages every week.

If you have two cell phone lines and you don’t use one very often but do have an unlimited texting feature on that phone as part of your package, you might want to try out accepting a free text alert offer to see how you like it. You can also gauge how many unwanted messages you receive without it impacting the cell phone you use more often. Then, if you like the text alert feature, you can add it to the phone you use most often.

Text alerts can be a convenience, but they also can be a headache. Be smart before accepting a text-alert offer from a business, even if you like the business a lot.



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