How to rebottle the cramming Genie?

Slate’s story Friday about text-message spam is decent (upshot: we’re screwed!), but it reminds me to post a nice New York Times piece about premium SMS scams. Remember when Love Genie charge appeared on my phone? The story is about that scam, and the writer is David Segal.

The practice, for what it’s worth, is called “cramming.”

This blog last praised Segal in the early 2000s for finding the comedy duo that bombed between the two sets of the Beatles’ first Ed Sullivan Show, profiling “the Elvis hunter,” and getting punchy at Lollapalooza.

But if you follow my tweets, you know Segal’s consumer reporting has been what’s captivated me about his writing recently. He’s done stellar investigations into an online sales bully and J.C. Penney’s SEO tactics. He’s also done a nice job of laying out the issues with magazine auto-renewals, shops Google Places accidentally marked closed, fake Yelp reviews, gaming searches for Mother’s Day flowers, and much more.

With Love Genie, Segal is chasing after its apparent sibling, Horoscope Genie, and the phone-company and government rules that allow these services to operate. The first column — Segal writes as “The Haggler” — turned up the parent company’s fake addresses and AT&T failing to answer anything. A follow-up column had Verizon looking a little better, but not too helpful, and the FCC sending “a response so anodyne and unilluminating that, as an act of mercy to both readers and the F.C.C. it won’t be excerpted here.” For what it’s worth, again, my service from a Verizon rep was terrific when I asked her to block the Genie. Hopefully Segal’s work, some day, will help prevent the scams in the first place.

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