Text messaging offers a unique platform that allows businesses and other organizations to communicate quickly and easily with consumers. Companies can notify their clients of a flash sale, schools can update parents about an early closing, and service providers can easily manage their appointments through SMS messages.
However, bad actors sometimes take advantage of text messaging and use it for nefarious purposes. For example, they may use SMS texts to advertise fake goods or services or encourage recipients to click links containing malware or viruses.
Federal, state, and local regulators partner with organizations like the CTIA to protect consumers from harm and ensure that businesses follow the best text messaging practices. When everyone complies with the rules, it helps text messaging remain an effective and safe channel for communication.
This article will discuss the Secure Messaging Initiative (SMI) and the best practices for safe SMS texting.
SMS Best Practices: What to Know
If you manage an SMS subscriber list or messaging program, it’s critical to ensure you follow the CTIA’s best practices. That way, you don’t run afoul of federal or local laws that could adversely impact your organization and lead to legal consequences.
Obtain Consent from Customers Before Sending a Text
Getting written consent from a customer before you add them to your SMS program is critical. Written permission might consist of either of the following:
- The customer provides their phone number via a website prompt and explicitly confirms they want to receive texts from your organization
- The customer signs up for your SMS texts through a paper opt-in form
If a customer initiates a conversation with your organization via text without signing up for your SMS messaging program, you can answer any inquiries they have. However, starting a text conversation does not mean the customer has agreed to receive further communications from you.
You should add a customer to your subscriber list only if they specifically ask you to do so.
Explain What Your Organization Uses Text Messaging for
In your opt-in notice, you’ll want to explain what your organization uses SMS messages for. Customers should be able to review the details of your program and decide whether they wish to receive notifications from you.
For instance, if you use SMS messaging for promotions and shipping updates, you’ll want to indicate that information in a way that customers can clearly understand.
You should also explain how often customers can expect to hear from you. For example, they should know whether to expect weekly or monthly texts. If you send texts more frequently, you’ll want to explain what they’ll relate to.
Provide Customers with Clear Ways to Opt Out of Messages
Even if you obtain a customer’s consent for text messages, you should provide them with an easy way to opt out if they decide they don’t want to hear from you. Many organizations send clients a welcome text and provide instructions for opting out, such as replying to the message with “STOP.”
If a consumer ever responds to a text with a message indicating they’d like to stop receiving them, you should honor it. If you don’t, the customer can take action against your company by contacting their telecommunications provider or filing a complaint with the FCC.
Don’t Share Your Subscriber Lists
When customers sign up to receive your texts, they signal they trust your organization with their personal information. Don’t abuse their trust by sharing your subscriber list with third parties.
Never consider selling your subscriber list. Doing so can put you at risk of legal repercussions and damage your company’s reputation.
Regularly Update Your Subscriber List
It’s critical to cultivate your SMS subscriber list. You’ll want to remove subscribers who opt out of your messages. You should also regularly check for undelivered messages. Undelivered texts can indicate your subscriber has blocked you or changed their number.
Telecommunications providers may flag your account as spam if too many of your texts are undeliverable. You don’t want to risk your text message marketing campaign, so keep on top of your subscriber list and remove phone numbers when necessary.
What the FTC Says About Fraudulent Messages
The FTC takes a tough stance against fraudulent messages. When a consumer files a complaint about receiving spam texts, the FTC will investigate the matter and decide whether legal action is necessary. Legal action can include criminal or civil charges, and victims may acquire rights to injunction or restitution from the spammer.
The FTC categorizes the below types of messages as fraudulent:
- Fake promises to help consumers get out of debt, like student loans or credit cards
- Texts about nonexistent free prizes or gift cards
- Offers for cheap loans or credit cards that aren’t sincere
- Attempts to obtain personal information through fraudulent links or malware
- Texts that appear like they’re from another company
- Fake delivery notices for items the customer didn’t order
Scammers use these spam messages to get more information about a consumer. Clicking on the links may take a consumer to a fraudulent website or even install malware on their phone. The scammer could steal the consumer’s Social Security number, passwords, or financial details.
The FTC advises that recipients of fraudulent messages immediately block the sender and contact their telecommunications company. Most wireless providers have tools to block fraudulent calls and texts. Consumers can also install an app that allows them to block unwanted texts.
It’s best to notify the FTC of spam messages so they can investigate the matter. Consumers can copy and send a fraudulent text message directly to the FTC by texting 7726 (SPAM). They can also submit a report to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
The Secure Messaging Initiative (SMI) and Law Enforcement Officials
The CTIA created the Secure Messaging Initiative (SMI) to further combat spam and fraudulent messages. The SMI is a partnership between wireless providers, law enforcement agencies, message ecosystem partners, and consumers. It was designed to protect the text messaging industry from nefarious activity.
The SMI creates a centralized clearinghouse where all partners can share fraudulent and spam messages. Through the clearinghouse, everyone has access to reports of spammers and can take action to further protect other consumers from fraudulent messages.
Law enforcement officials can use information from the clearinghouse to quickly check whether a number is known for sending fraudulent messages. They can also update the clearinghouse with new phone numbers and companies found to be the source of scam messages.
The overarching goal of the SMI is to provide law enforcement officials and other organizations with real-time information about suspected fraudulent activity. That way, they can take action quickly to prevent the situation from getting out of control and protect other consumers.
Avoid Sending Unlawful Texts
Federal and state regulators work with law enforcement officials and wireless providers to protect consumers from unlawful texts and illegal content. To protect the legitimacy of your organization, avoid sending unwanted text messages with illegal, criminal, or illicit material. Here are a few examples of unlawful texts.
Abusive or Harassing Texts
All your communications with consumers should be positive and legal. You can’t use SMS texts to abuse or harass a customer. Harassment is of particular concern to organizations that send too many texts to their subscribers.
To avoid potential claims of harassment, limit the number of your texts. You should not text consumers several times a day unless you’re updating them about products they’ve ordered or responding to their inquiries.
You should never use text messages to communicate information that isn’t true. For example, telling a subscriber they’ll win a free gift if they take a specific action, like signing up for another SMS mailing list, is deceitful. You should be straightforward and transparent in your messaging activities.
Phishing or Malware Messages
It’s illegal to use text messages to gain private information about a consumer, such as their bank account information or passwords. Companies that use phishing or malware software in their texts can face repercussions from law enforcement officials or the FTC.
If you include links in your messages, make sure that they connect directly to your organization’s website that’s under your control.
Avoid Sending Messages that Don’t Properly Age-Gate Consumers
Certain content is subject to age-gating restrictions. You must adequately vet subscribers before sending them content related to certain items, such as alcohol and tobacco.
The law prohibits sending messages containing sexually explicit material or information about gambling, firearms, illegal substances, or pharmaceuticals, no matter how old the subscriber is.
Ensure Your SMS Messaging Activities Align with the Law
Monitor your SMS program carefully to avoid running afoul of the CTIA’s best messaging practices and the FTC’s regulations concerning illegal messaging.
Always ensure you have the full consent of your subscribers before sending them a text message. Also, adhere to opt-out rules and give subscribers a straightforward way to unsubscribe from your future messages if they choose to do so.
If you have further questions regarding SMS texting, it’s best to consult with your attorney to ensure your messaging program fully complies with the law.
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