If you’re tired of being inundated with unsolicited spam text messages from businesses, it will come as welcome news that the media watchdog is cracking down on SMS marketing this year.
And companies are already seeing the consequences.
Service Seeking – a website that compares quotes from local tradesman – was fined $50,400 this week for sending customers promotional text messages without customer permission and for failing to give consumers the option to opt out.
A text message trying to sell you a discounted gym membership, after that one time you accompanied your friend to a yoga session, may have landed in your inbox illegally.
But in many cases, companies are using tactics to trick you into handing over your contact information willingly.
Under the Spam Act, businesses are not permitted to send marketing material via text message or email unless they can prove that the recipient has given consent.
A spokeswoman for media watchdog ACMA said “consent” could mean anything from signing up to a mailing list, to entering a competition or even simply having been a previous customer.
Companies are also required to include contact details and an unsubscribe function that gives consumers the ability to opt out of receiving the messages.
Telecommunications provider TPG found itself in similar strife last year when it was fined $360,000 after its customers complained about continuing to receive commercial text messages after opting out.
How to avoid unwanted promotional texts
Corporate ethics and marketing expert Dr Michael Callaghan of Deakin University said text messages are not covered by the Do Not Call register.
He said many consumers are “too trusting” and don’t question what their contact details will be used for when handing it over to businesses.
“Whenever there’s a crack in the system, the lowest common denominator of the profession will exploit it,” he said.
“A lot of us don’t un-tick default consent statements.
“These sort of actions are overdue. It’s been a while for these sorts of offences to be taken seriously.”
ACMA said it was important for consumers to remember they can always withdraw their consent at any time. It advised consumers to:
- Think before you fill out online forms and be careful how you share your information
- When you do share your information, be careful when disclosing your mobile phone number or email address. Look for options, such as tick boxes, that allow you to ‘opt-out’ of commercial messages
- Check an organisation’s terms and conditions, privacy and consent policies before disclosing your information so you know whether it will be passed on to other parties.
Suspicious text messages can be deleted, blocked or reported by forwarding them directly to ACMA at 0429 999 888. Complaints can be lodged on ACMA’s website.
How to distinguish between spam and scam texts
Sometimes it can be difficult to ascertain whether a text message has been sent by a legitimate company or if it is simply a scam.
Dr Callaghan said SMS marketing is closely associated with scams, phishing and fraud.
He warned consumers to “never act on an unsolicited text message”, even if it appears to be from a legitimate source.
“If it’s not a contact you’ve exchanged messages with before, treat it as suspicious,” he told The New Daily.
“Consumers have to be very cautious. If you reply ‘stop’ and it’s a scam, this acknowledges your receipt of the text message.
“Independently search for the company’s website and log in, or call the official customer service line to verify the text message is genuine.
“Then there is no possibility of a fraudster capturing your data in the process.”
But Dr Callaghan said companies are moving towards “safer” marketing strategies such as sending promotional material via apps, where the downloading of an app in itself is deemed as a form of giving consent.
“This is an encrypted, secure way of communicating with an organisation,” he said.
“And it’s easier to see that it’s coming from a verified app that you’ve elected to download.”