Spam messages: Israel's laws and what you should do

Just say no to spam emails and SMS messages.

 Spam mail (photo credit: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)
Spam mail
(photo credit: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Need a mortgage? Wanna buy grass? Need a loan? Have I got a deal for you! Just click! Who hasn’t received dozens, if not hundreds, of SMS instant messages on our phones as well as unwanted spam emails. Spam generally refers to those messages that are unsolicited.

The laws in Israel are very strict, but very hard to enforce. The law, known as Section 30, refers to the Communications Broadcasting Law, according to which “it is prohibited to send advertisements by message, email, facsimile and automatic dialing system without the prior consent of the recipient.” An advertiser who knowingly sends an advertisement, in violation of the law, is subject to a court ruling where the court may award compensation for this violation, without proof of damage, in the amount of up to NIS 1,000 for each message the advertiser sent to the recipient.

“It is prohibited to send advertisements by message, email, facsimile and automatic dialing system without the prior consent of the recipient.”

Israeli law

According to Dr. Omer Tene, Associate Professor at the College of Management School of Law in Rishon Lezion, you can sue the company that violated the order in small claims court; however, you must know who to sue. And that is the tricky part.

The tricky part

Most spam messages are not being sent from another phone, even if they show a phone number. They are usually sent from a computer disguised as a phone, often using fake phone numbers and fake email addresses. It is possible that the mobile phone and internet companies could trace the origin of these messages, but the senders are often not even in Israel.

A woman text messages SMS 370 (R) (credit: Vivek Prakash / Reuters)
A woman text messages SMS 370 (R) (credit: Vivek Prakash / Reuters)

The first rule is to never respond, reply or click on unwanted messages. If you do, you are simply alerting the system that your phone number or email address is active, and they will send you even more spam.

One can report spam to the police, and ask for help in revealing the identity of the sender – the police can order the cell phone company to reveal the source. The National Cyber Network (Dial 119 from any phone in Israel) is charged with the responsibility for more serious types of spam (among other things), including messages such as phishing attempts trying to get your personal information, fraud, sending a file that is suspected of being harmful and ransomware. The center receives hundreds of reports daily. The best advice is to treat your personal information like cash.

According to Rakefet Weintraub, spokesperson for the Israel Consumers Council, another phenomenon is the call-and-hang-up trick. Advertisers call the consumer and disconnect the call before it is answered. Many people have the habit of calling back a missed number and when the consumer does, their phone gets listed as active, and they often get a recorded message trying to sell them something.

MOST PHONES (Android and iPhone) give you an option to block and/or report calls. Be aware that you should never click inside a message where it might say “Unsubscribe” or “click here to be removed from the list” because that link is usually a virus or just a report being sent back that your phone is live. However, it is recommended that you delete the message and then use your phone’s software to block phone numbers in the settings menu. Many phones have several types of blocking options for calls, text messaging, and more. And some phones have software (an app) that can tell you who is calling and if the number is from a known spammer.

If the identity of the sender is known or is relatively easy to find out, it is possible to file a class action suit on behalf of a large number of subscribers. In most cases, according to the Israel Consumers Council, the public will win.

When you are purchasing any product or service online, be sure to uncheck the box where they ask if they can send you marketing and promotional materials, since that gives permission to that company and anyone they sell their list to.

If you checked the box and now want to change your mind, just tell the sender – a legitimate business will comply immediately. If they continue to send you spam, then you need to send a registered letter to them (or proof of email or fax sent) and then, after a few weeks, if it continues, you can take them to small claims court.

Regarding spam phone calls, not long ago, the Knesset approved a law allowing the Communications Ministry to create a database named “Don’t Call Me,” and they were given 18 months to have it up and running.

In addition to the Israel Consumers Council, the organization Emun Hatzibur (Civil Trust) handles all consumer inquiries, including issues of spam through a team of lawyers, free of charge and in a professional manner.

There is one interesting exception to the law: a non-profit can send you information about themselves and ask for donations without your consent, unless you have specifically asked not to receive such emails. This exception only applies to email (and no other type of communication), and the email must have an “opt-out” option readily available. 

The writer is a philanthropic consultant, helping people and foundations from around the world give their tzedakah money away wisely, efficiently and effectively, for more than 20 years. He is also a consultant to hi-tech companies in PR, marketing and branding.