Unwanted text messages can be incredibly annoying, especially when it feels like you can’t do anything to stop them. However, some text messages can be sent with the intent to cause harm and need to be treated with caution.

Scamwatch reports that Australians lost over $1.4 million to scam text messages in January alone. According to that report, text messages are now the most popular method for scammers to target people. While both the government and the telecommunications industry have announced that they’re looking into solutions for this problem, there are still a few things you can do to keep yourself safe.

Knowing the difference between a scam SMS and an annoying marketing message is key when it comes to identifying which steps to take to reduce
annoying messages and stay safe from harmful ones.A man holding a credit card in one hand, and a phone in the other

It can be tricky to spot the difference between scam and spam text messages because they can look very similar.

Scam texts 

Scam texts are malicious messages sent by cybercriminals to try and deceive you. The person sending the text may try and get you to hand over personal details or click an unsafe link. Giving up this information can expose you to the risk of identity theft or being defrauded. In addition, clicking links that look suspicious can allow scammers to access your device and install malware (malicious software), which can give them access to information that should be kept private.

Spam texts 

Spam text messages are unwanted communications that usually come from a legitimate business. Spam texts often advertise sales or other offers. They should include a mechanism to opt out, such as texting back “stop.” If you continue to receive messages from a business even though you’ve unsubscribed or opted out, or you have not consented to signing up you can complain to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For more information, visit the ACMA's website.

What is the Government doing to stop scam text messages?

Because scam text messages have become such a significant issue, the government has announced several measures that aim to limit the amount of scam text messages reaching Australians. A press release from the Minister of Communications has highlighted that the government will be partnering with industry to stop scam text messages. By making amendments to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, telcos are now able to block SMS messages going through to consumers if the messages look like they’re a scam. Furthermore, the Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA) has established an action plan and Scam Telco Action Taskforce to help the industry respond to increasing levels of scams.

The ACMA has also recently announced that they will be working together with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission to assist each other with investigations into unlawful telemarketing and spam. Sharing strategic approaches and intelligence to assist each other with global investigations will help to combat spam text messages on a global front. For the full media release, click here.

What are the industry doing to stop scam text messages?

Telcos are currently running pilot programs to ‘train’ their systems to spot the differences between real text messages and scam text messages, so that they can intercept them before they get to customers. Telstra, for example, are expanding their Cleaner Pipes initiative to include text messages. They’ve just turned on a brand-new SMS scam filter which works to block these messages at the network level, before they even reach your mobile. You can more about this new filter technology on the Telstra website. In the meantime, reporting scam texts to Scamwatch can help regulators identify new types of scams.

Communications Alliance, the group representing the Australian telecommunications industry, has also announced that they will be revising the Reducing Scam Calls and Scam SMS Industry Code. The code outlines procedures to reduce the number of scam calls and messages delivered to Australians. ACCAN believes that this code could be further improved by making sure that information about scam calls and messages is easy to find for everyone. For ACCAN's full submission, click here.

What you can do to keep yourself safe:

  • Scam text messages vs spam text messages

It’s important to note the difference between spam text messages and scam text messages, as this can help you identify how best to deal with the message.

Once you’ve identified the type of message you’re received, you can start thinking about what actions you need to take. The table below provides a breakdown of things you can do to try and limit the number of unwanted messages that are being sent to your phone.

Type of message How to spot it What you can do
Spam text message
  • From a legitimate business
  • Advertising a sale, offer or some other business event
  • Doesn’t ask for personal details
  • Should include an option to unsubscribe or opt out
  • If a business asks you to give your mobile number to them, check to ensure you’re not going to receive unwanted communications including emails and text messages from them.
  • Unsubscribe or opt out from receiving communications from this business. It’s a legal requirement for businesses to make it easy to unsubscribe. Visit the ACMA’s website for more info.
  • Report the organisation to the ACMA if spam texts continue after you’ve unsubscribed.
Scam text message
  • From a suspicious number
  • Includes a suspicious link
  • Promises something that’s too good to be true (for example, some sort of prize, money)
  • Claims to be from the government, Australia Post, your bank, or some other legitimate organization
  • Messaging beginning with 5-9 random lowercase letters or numbers, then saying you had a missed call, voicemail message, or directing you to a website link
  • Do NOT click any links, or call the number that sent the text
  • Immediately delete the message
  • If you’re unsure whether it’s a scam, check the Scamwatch website for any current scams that are circulating, and ask a friend or family member for a second opinion
  • Some call blocking apps that users can install from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store also work to assist with blocking unwanted texts. To determine which call blocking app to use, read up on the features, user ratings and expert reviews.
  • You can also try contacting your telco provider for more information about how you can go about stopping scam text messages.
  • For more information on how to remove scam texts from Apple devices, visit the Apple Support page. The support page for Google and Android can be found here.

 

ACCAN understands just how frustrating it can be to keep receiving these messages, especially when it feels like you can’t prevent them. While individuals can try to limit the number of spam or scam text messages they’re receiving by using the tips above, more needs to be done at the government and industry levels to ensure that Australians aren’t impacted. We will continue to advocate for better protections for consumers from spam and scam text messages.

 

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