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How do I stop getting spam SMS?

Clean up your text message inbox with these helpful tips.


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What you need to know

  • Legitimate businesses are required to provide clear and simple steps for unsubscribing to SMS notifications.
  • This typically involves texting the word "STOP" to the offending number.
  • Alternatively, you can block specific phone numbers from your phone or through your mobile provider.

What is spam SMS?

Not just content that's worming its way into your email inbox, spam is making its way into your SMS folder as well. It’s certainly not as common as email spam, but it can be even more problematic.

Just like email, a spam SMS is an unsolicited message from a company or individual that has a commercial or fraudulent component. At best, this is just a nuisance, such as when a shop texts you about a sale despite you never agreeing to receive messages from them.

On the darker side, spam SMS can help scammers gather personal information from you by fraudulent means – information they can then use to rip you off. And in the case of certain premium mobile services, you could be charged for simply receiving the message even if you didn't ask for it in the first place.

How do I identify an SMS as spam?

Any unsolicited text message from a commercial entity can be considered spam. These kinds of messages are usually pretty easy to spot. Less obvious are the messages designed to scam you out of money or information, as they often present themselves as legitimate SMS from trusted authorities like financial institutions or government agencies like the Australian Tax Office.

To avoid succumbing to these scams, follow up any suspicious SMS by contacting the supposed sender using a trusted method like their official website or a phone number taken from that website. Do not reply to the SMS directly, and do not contact any numbers or email addresses nor click any links listed in the SMS. These are common tricks scammers use to extract personal information from you.

One thing to remember is that just because an SMS is advertising a product or service doesn't automatically mean it's spam. When you sign up for an online account or loyalty program with a business, you'll usually have the option to subscribe to notifications. Since this is often ticked by default, it's easy to inadvertently authorise a business to send you an SMS. Fortunately, opting out is relatively simple, and you should be able to unsubscribe online or over the phone with minimal fuss.

What about premium mobile services?

It doesn't matter whether you call them premium mobile services, premium SMS, premium texts or 19 SMS services, these non-standard services can end up costing you a whole lot of money.

Unlike regular SMS, these premium messages send information or services directly to your phone and charge you for it. Popular examples include chat services, SMS polls, competitions and news and weather updates. The list is essentially endless, and the charges associated with these services can be quite steep, especially if you subscribe to them for an extended period of time.

That last point is key since these services don't always make their payment models clear. Some only charge you for a one-off subscription, but many charge you each time you get a message. Depending on the service, this charge can be as high as $5 a message. And don't forget, you'll still be charged even if your mobile provider offers "unlimited" free SMS because that typically only covers "standard" SMS. Premium SMS services are outside that definition, so they're not included.

Legally, you need to explicitly consent to these sorts of recurring charges when signing up for premium SMS services. Unfortunately, you could have unwittingly given consent via a message you sent or a link you've followed online. Of course, it's not always completely clear what these charges are and that's why premium SMS services can end up a hassle for many people.

The good news is that according to The Australia Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), all the particulars of a service "must be clearly stated in any advertising, along with details of how often you will receive the content, its cost and how to stop the service."

That last one is the important part because it should be very easy for you to unsubscribe. If you have difficulty unsubscribing, the Department of Communications recommends that you check out for advice.


How do I stop SMS spam?

The ACMA has a simple recommendation for the majority of unwanted spam texts: unsubscribe.

"Replying 'STOP' to a message is the quickest way to opt out of receiving more messages," reads the ACMA spam SMS FAQ. "Some messages may also include a telephone number that you can call to ensure you will not be contacted again."

You can also report the spam to the ACMA by forwarding the message to 0429 999 888 with an option to lodge a formal written complaint. This won't stop the spam by itself, but it will help the ACMA investigate and track spam and scam activities.

You can also contact your mobile service provider about the texts if they don't stop, letting them know that you've attempted to unsubscribe. Your provider may be able to help stop the messages and even reverse any charges.

If the spam is coming from a specific number, you could try blocking that individual number from your phone. It's not the perfect solution, but it can relieve a little of the nuisance factor.

While the specifics will vary from phone to phone, you can usually find the option to block or blacklist a number in your messaging app after tapping on the message itself.

For more details on dealing with phone spam, including the various ways to report it, visit the ACMA Mobile Spam page.

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