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Ultimate Guide to SMS Compliance

We’re excited to help you navigate the essential requirements for sending text messages in a compliant manner. Whether new to text messaging or looking to brush up on the latest regulations, this guide will give you a clear understanding of current requirements.

Purpose of the Guide

In today’s fast-paced world, staying compliant with text messaging regulations can feel overwhelming. This guide simplifies the process and provides clear, actionable steps to ensure your messages are compliant and reach your audience effectively. Here’s what you can expect:

  1. Clarity on Registration Requirements: Understand why registering for 10DLC and toll-free verification is necessary and how it benefits you, even if you send messages to a smaller group.
  2. Transparency in Compliance: Learn about key regulations, such as express written consent and opt-out compliance, to confidently send messages and avoid surprises.
  3. Comprehensive Compliance Resource: Access all the information you need in one place—from types of messages and prohibited content to templates for terms and conditions and privacy policies.
  4. Smooth Onboarding Experience: Before sending text messages, select a pricing plan and become a registered sender. We’ll ensure you can get started quickly without any hiccups.
  5. Industry-Wide Standards: Understand that these compliance requirements are not unique to Text-Em-All. They are mandated by mobile carriers and apply to all text messaging services to ensure consistent and fair practices across the industry.

SMS Compliance

What is SMS Compliance?

Text messaging compliance refers to adhering to text message communications rules and regulations. These regulations protect consumers from unwanted messages and ensure businesses communicate respectfully and legally with their customers.

Importance of Compliance in Text Messaging

Compliance is crucial for several reasons:

  • Legal Protection: Adhering to regulations helps avoid legal penalties and fines.
  • Consumer Trust: Following best practices builds trust with your audience, showing them you respect their privacy and choices.
  • Message Deliverability: Carriers are more likely to deliver your messages if you comply with guidelines, ensuring your communications reach your audience.

Key Takeaways

  • Text messaging compliance is essential for legal protection, consumer trust, and message deliverability.
  • Familiarize yourself with key regulations like the TCPA and CTIA guidelines.
  • Always obtain consent and provide opt-out options to your recipients.


TCPA Law, CTIA Messaging Guidelines, and Best Practices

Compliance with text messaging regulations involves understanding and adhering to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the guidelines provided by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA). This section provides an overview of these regulations and offers best practices for maintaining compliance.

*While the TCPA is law, and the CTIA provides guidelines; MNOs, DCAs, and CSPs set their own rules and standards that must also be followed. Additionally, your state may also have a "mini-TCPA" with separate rules.

Key Takeaways

Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)

The TCPA is a federal law that governs telemarketing calls, auto-dialed calls, pre-recorded calls, text messages, and unsolicited faxes. Here are the key provisions relevant to text messaging:

  1. Consent Requirements:
    • Express Consent: Required for informational messages. This can be obtained through a web form, verbal agreement, or text message opt-in.
    • Express Written Consent: Required for promotional or marketing messages. This must be in writing and clearly state that the recipient agrees to receive marketing messages.
  2. Opt-Out Mechanisms:
    • All messages must include a clear and easy way for recipients to opt-out of receiving further messages. Standard keywords like "STOP" should be used, and opt-out requests must be honored immediately.
  3. Identification:
    • The sender must clearly identify themselves in each message and provide contact information or a way for recipients to get more information.
  4. Time Restrictions:
    • Text messages should be sent during reasonable hours, typically between 8 AM and 9 PM local time of the recipient.

CTIA Messaging Guidelines

The CTIA is an association representing the wireless communications industry in the United States. They provide best practice guidelines to ensure the proper use of messaging services. Key guidelines include:

  1. Opt-In and Opt-Out:
    • Obtain explicit opt-in consent from recipients before sending messages.
    • Provide a clear and easy-to-use opt-out mechanism in every message.
  2. Content Restrictions:
    • Avoid sending prohibited content, including unlawful, deceptive, harmful, spam, obscene, and SHAFT (Sex, Hate, Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco) content.
  3. Message Frequency:
    • Clearly communicate the expected frequency of messages during the opt-in process and adhere to it.
  4. Transparency:
    • Be transparent about the purpose of the messages and how recipients' information will be used.

Do Not Call Registry Compliance

To maintain compliance with text messaging regulations, it's crucial to respect the National Do Not Call Registry. These registries allow individuals to opt-out of receiving unsolicited marketing communications. Here’s how to ensure your messages comply:

  • Regularly Update Lists: Regularly update your contact lists to remove numbers registered on the Do Not Call lists.
  • Obtain Consent: Ensure you have explicit consent from recipients before sending messages, even if they are not on the Do Not Call lists.
  • Respect Opt-Out Requests: Honor opt-out requests immediately. When someone texts STOP, their number should be removed from your contact list automatically.
  • Identify Your Organization: Always identify your organization in your messages to maintain transparency and trust.
  • Timing and Frequency: Avoid sending messages outside of normal business hours and limit the frequency to avoid being intrusive.

By adhering to these practices, you can help ensure your text messaging campaigns remain compliant with Do Not Call Registry regulations.

State-Level Mini-TCPA and Do Not Call Lists

In addition to the federal TCPA regulations, many states have their own mini-TCPA laws and Do Not Call lists that you need to be aware of to maintain compliance. Here's what you need to know:

  • Understand State Regulations: Each state may have different regulations regarding text messaging and Do Not Call lists. Familiarize yourself with the specific requirements for each state you operate in.
  • State Do Not Call Lists: Some states maintain their own Do Not Call lists in addition to the national list. Make sure to check both national and state lists regularly to avoid contacting numbers that have opted out.
  • Consent Requirements: State laws may have stricter consent requirements than federal regulations. Always obtain clear and explicit consent from recipients in states with stricter laws.
  • Penalties for Non-Compliance: Violating state-level mini-TCPA laws can result in significant fines and legal action. Ensure your messaging practices comply with both federal and state laws to avoid these penalties.
  • Regular Audits: Conduct regular audits of your messaging practices and contact lists to ensure compliance with state-specific laws and regulations.

By understanding and adhering to state-level mini-TCPA laws and Do Not Call lists, you can further safeguard your messaging practices and maintain compliance across all jurisdictions.

Adhering to TCPA law and CTIA messaging guidelines is essential for maintaining a compliant and effective text messaging strategy. By following best practices and regularly reviewing your processes, you can ensure compliance and build trust with your recipients.


Messaging Penalties, Blocking, & Fines

Understanding the potential consequences of non-compliance with text messaging regulations is essential for maintaining a compliant and effective messaging strategy. This section covers common violations, the fines and penalties associated with them, delivery issues and blocking, and how to avoid these issues.

Key Takeaways

  • Non-compliance with text messaging regulations can result in significant fines, legal actions, service suspension, and reputational damage.
  • Common violations include lack of consent, inadequate opt-out mechanisms, sending prohibited content, exceeding message frequency, and ignoring opt-out requests.
  • Delivery issues and blocking can occur if messages contain prohibited content or violate other regulations. In this case, messages may not be delivered, and text numbers may be blocked.
  • To avoid violations, obtain proper consent, provide clear opt-out options, adhere to content guidelines, stick to agreed frequency, and conduct regular audits and training.

Common Violations

  1. Lack of Consent:
    • One of the most common violations is sending messages without obtaining proper consent from recipients. This includes failing to obtain express written consent for promotional messages.
  2. Inadequate Opt-Out Mechanisms:
    • Not providing a clear and easy way for recipients to opt-out of receiving messages can lead to violations. It's essential to include opt-out instructions in every message.
  3. Sending Prohibited Content:
    • Sending content that is unlawful, deceptive, harmful, spam, obscene, or falls under SHAFT (Sex, Hate, Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco) and gambling content is strictly prohibited.
  4. Exceeding Message Frequency:
    • Sending messages more frequently than what was communicated to and expected by the recipients can result in violations. Stick to the agreed frequency.
  5. Ignoring Opt-Out Requests:
    • Continuing to send messages to recipients who have opted out is a serious violation that can result in severe penalties.

Fines and Penalties

Non-compliance with text messaging regulations can result in significant fines and penalties. Here are some potential consequences:

  1. Monetary Fines:
    • Violations of regulations such as the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) can result in hefty fines. The TCPA imposes penalties of up to $1,500 per violation, which can add up quickly if multiple messages are involved.
  2. Carrier Penalties:
    • Mobile carriers can impose penalties such as increased message filtering, service suspension, or termination. They may also require higher fees for message throughput or limit the number of messages you can send.
  3. The Campaign Registry Penalties:
    • The Campaign Registry, which oversees 10DLC registration, can impose fines for non-compliance or fraudulent registrations. They may also suspend your campaign or revoke your registration, preventing you from using your 10DLC number.
  4. Direct Connect Aggregators (DCAs) Penalties:
    • DCAs like Twilio, Bandwidth, or Sinch can impose penalties for violations, including increased fees, service limitations, or suspension of your account. They ensure that the messages routed through their networks comply with carrier regulations.
  5. Legal Actions:
    • Recipients may file lawsuits for violations of their privacy and rights. Class-action lawsuits can result in substantial financial settlements.
  6. Service Suspension or Termination:
    • Mobile carriers and messaging service providers may suspend or terminate your messaging services if you are found to be in violation of their policies.
  7. Reputational Damage:
    • Non-compliance can lead to negative publicity and damage your brand’s reputation, affecting customer trust and loyalty.

Delivery Issues & Blocking

Sending messages with prohibited content or violating other regulations can lead to significant delivery issues and blocking by carriers. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Message Filtering:
    • Carriers use sophisticated filtering systems to detect and block messages containing prohibited content. If your message is flagged, it will not be delivered to the recipient.
  2. Number Blocking:
    • If you repeatedly send messages that violate regulations, your text number may be blocked by carriers. This means you won’t be able to send any messages from that number, severely disrupting your communication strategy.
  3. Carrier Blacklisting:
    • In severe cases, carriers can blacklist your number or business, making it difficult to send messages across multiple networks. This can have a long-term impact on your ability to use text messaging for communication.

How do you prevent your messages from being blocked?

  • Ensure you have proper consent.
  • Allow and abide by opt-out requests from consumers. 
  • Send text messages only as often as necessary and not too frequently.
  • Personalize the text messages to the recipient rather than sending the same message to multiple people. 
  • Start the message by identifying your company.
  • Follow the laws and regulations.
  • Don’t use free URL shorteners in your messages. 
  • Avoid using ALL CAPS in your messages.
  • Limit special characters except where you must (emojis and $ symbols)
  • Avoid sending excessively long messages. 
  • Never include a callback phone number that doesn’t match the text number you’re sending messages from.

Following these guidelines will make your text messages less likely to be marked as spam and more likely to be received and read by the intended recipients.

How to Avoid Violations

  1. Obtain Proper Consent:
    • Always obtain express written consent for promotional messages and ensure you have clear consent for other types of messages. Document and store consent records.
  2. Provide Clear Opt-Out Options:
    • Include clear and easy-to-use opt-out instructions in every message. Honor opt-out requests immediately and confirm the opt-out with a final message.
  3. Adhere to Content Guidelines:
    • Avoid sending prohibited content. Regularly review your messages to ensure compliance with regulations and guidelines.
  4. Stick to Agreed Frequency:
    • Communicate the expected message frequency to recipients and adhere to it. Do not send messages more frequently than promised.
  5. Regular Audits and Training:
    • Conduct regular audits of your messaging practices and train your team on compliance requirements. Stay updated with any changes in regulations.


Understanding consent in text messaging

Consent is a cornerstone of compliance in text messaging. It's essential to ensure that the recipients of your messages have willingly opted in to receive them. This section will help you understand the different types of consent required for various types of messages, why consent is crucial, and how to obtain and manage it effectively.

Types of Consent

According to the CTIA's Messaging Principles and Best Practices, there are three main types of consent: Implied Consent, Express Consent, and Express Written Consent.

  1. Implied Consent
    • Definition: Implied consent occurs when a consumer initiates the communication by sending a text message, and the business responds with relevant information. No additional permission is typically required in this scenario.
    • Example: If a consumer texts your business first and you reply with a message related to their inquiry, this is considered implied consent.
  2. Express Consent
    • Definition: Express consent is when a consumer gives explicit permission to receive messages. This can be done verbally, through a web form, or via text message.
    • Example: A consumer might enter their phone number on your website to receive updates or send a keyword to opt-in to a campaign.
  3. Express Written Consent
    • Definition: Express written consent is required specifically for promotional messages. This involves the consumer providing explicit written permission to receive marketing texts.
    • Example: A consumer signs a form or checks a box online indicating they agree to receive promotional texts from your business.

Why Consent is Important

Consent is not just a regulatory requirement; it's also a best practice that helps maintain trust and credibility with your audience. Here's why it's important:

  • Compliance with Laws: Adhering to consent requirements ensures you comply with laws like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and regulations from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and CTIA. Proof of how you obtain consent is also a requirement to becoming a registered sender.
  • Building Trust: By obtaining clear consent, you demonstrate respect for your customer's preferences, which helps build trust and foster positive relationships.
  • Avoiding Penalties: Non-compliance can lead to hefty fines and legal action. Ensuring you have proper consent protects your business from these risks.

Best Practices for Obtaining Consent

To effectively manage consent, follow these best practices:

  1. Clear and Conspicuous Calls-to-Action:
    • Ensure that your opt-in requests are easy to understand. Consumers should know exactly what they are signing up for, including the type of messages they will receive and any associated costs.
  2. Documenting Consent:
    • Keep detailed records of how and when consent was obtained. This includes timestamps, consent methods (e.g., web form, SMS keyword), and the specific campaign associated with the opt-in.
  3. Providing Opt-Out Mechanisms:
    • Always offer a simple and clear way for consumers to opt-out of receiving messages. Standard keywords like "STOP" should be used, and opt-out requests should be promptly honored.
  4. Regular Audits:
    • Conduct regular reviews of your consent processes and records to ensure ongoing compliance. This will help you identify any gaps or areas for improvement.
  5. Transparency:
    • Be transparent about collecting, using, and storing consumers' information. Providing a clear privacy policy and adhering to it builds trust and assures consumers that their data is handled responsibly. Documentation of your privacy policy will be required to become a registered sender.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your text messaging campaigns are compliant, effective, and respectful of your audience's preferences. This helps you avoid legal issues and enhances the overall effectiveness and reputation of your communication efforts.


Opt-Out Compliance

Ensuring your recipients have an easy and effective way to opt out of receiving text messages is a regulatory requirement and a best practice for maintaining trust and satisfaction with your audience. This section will guide you through the importance of opt-out compliance, how to implement it, and what best practices to follow.

Key Takeaways

  • Opt-out compliance is essential for legal adherence, consumer trust, and reputation management.
  • Provide clear and easy-to-use opt-out options in every message.
  • Process opt-out requests immediately and maintain accurate records.
  • Offer multiple channels for recipients to opt-out to accommodate their preferences.

Opt-out compliance is crucial for several reasons:

  • Legal Requirement: Regulations such as the TCPA and CTIA guidelines mandate that consumers must be able to easily opt-out of receiving text messages.
  • Consumer Trust: Providing a simple opt-out mechanism shows respect for your recipients' preferences and helps build trust.
  • Reputation Management: Allowing easy opt-outs prevents negative sentiment and complaints, protecting your brand's reputation.

How to Provide Opt-Out Options

There are several methods to offer opt-out options to your recipients:

  1. Standard Opt-Out Keywords:
    • The most common method is using standard keywords like "STOP," "UNSUBSCRIBE," "CANCEL," or "END." Recipients send these keywords to your short code or phone number to opt-out.
    • Example: "Reply STOP to unsubscribe."
  2. Alternative Opt-Out Methods:
    • Besides SMS, you can provide opt-out options via phone, email, or web forms. Ensure these methods are clearly communicated to your recipients.
    • Example: "To opt-out, reply STOP or visit []."
  3. Opt-Out Confirmation:
    • After receiving an opt-out request, send a final confirmation message to acknowledge the opt-out. This message should confirm the opt-out and assure the recipient that no further messages will be sent.
    • Example: "You have been unsubscribed. No further messages will be sent."

Best Practices for Opt-Out Compliance

  1. Clear Instructions:
    • Always include clear opt-out instructions in every message you send. Use standard keywords that are easy to remember and understand.
  2. Immediate Action:
    • Process opt-out requests immediately to ensure compliance and maintain consumer trust. Delays in processing can lead to complaints and legal issues.
  3. Multiple Opt-Out Channels:
    • To accommodate different user preferences, offer multiple opt-out channels (SMS, email, phone, web). Make sure these channels are easy to access and use.
  4. Record Keeping:
    • Maintain detailed records of opt-out requests, including the date and method of the request. This helps manage compliance and resolve any disputes.
  5. Regular Audits:
    • Audit your opt-out processes regularly to ensure they function correctly and efficiently. This will help you identify and rectify any issues promptly.


Prohibited Content in Text Messaging: Things to Avoid

To ensure your messages are delivered successfully, it's crucial to know what content is off-limits in text messages. Sending prohibited content can lead to undelivered messages, blocked numbers, hefty fines, legal trouble, and even losing access to messaging services. This section breaks down what you can't send and why following these rules is so important. 

Why the Content of Text Messages Matters

Texting is a powerful tool that can reach thousands of people in seconds. As such, many bad actors use the tool to spend Spam messages.  This is a huge problem and our government has forced mobile carriers and service providers to take action.

Service providers, message aggregators, and mobile carriers have all taken steps to monitor, identify, and block prohibited content.

Becoming a registered message sender is now a required step to delivery mass messages.

Key Takeaways

  • Importance of Compliance: Text messaging is a powerful tool but can easily be misused for spam. Governments and mobile carriers have implemented strict measures to prevent the spread of prohibited content, making compliance essential.
  • Prohibited Content: Avoid sending messages related to sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, tobacco, drugs, and other high-risk or deceptive content like gambling, stock alerts, and get-rich-quick schemes.
  • Responsible Messaging: Always obtain consent from your contacts before sending messages, respect opt-out requests, and follow guidelines like not sending messages outside of business hours or more than three times a day.
  • Internal Guidelines: Establish clear internal policies, educate your team on compliance, and regularly review your message content to ensure it adheres to regulations.
  • Legal Consultation: Consult with legal counsel familiar with TCPA law to ensure full compliance and avoid potential fines or legal issues.

Preventing Spam

Broadly speaking, any message that is unsolicited, unwanted, or unexpected is considered Spam. 

More specifically, Spam commonly shows up as messages sent to you without your consent that:

  • promote a product and/or service
  • "Phishing" attempts that aim to collect personal information
  • harass/threaten users or contain inappropriate/deceptive content

Responsible Use Policy

At Text-Em-All, our Responsible Use Policy along with our Terms of Service define the types of content you can not send. In summary:

  • DO NOT send messages without consent from the contact. This includes contacts purchased or acquired from a 3rd party list.
  • DO NOT send messages categorized as:
    • Political - soliciting votes for a specific candidate or cause
    • Fundraising - asking for donations, unless the organization has 501(c)(3) status

Although some of the above-listed messages may be legal in certain circumstances, we respectfully decline to allow this traffic on our network.

Carrier Prohibited Content

The concept of S.H.A.F.T has become the standard for describing content that most mobile carriers don't allow to be sent.


This means any content related to sexual activities or explicit material. For example, don't send messages that include adult content, pornography, or sexually explicit language.


This refers to content that promotes hatred or violence against people or groups. Avoid hate speech, discriminatory remarks, or anything that incites violence.


This covers content that promotes or advertises alcoholic drinks. Examples include messages about alcohol sales, promotions, or events.


This is about content that advertises or promotes firearms and related products. For instance, don't send messages about gun sales, accessories, or firearm-related events.

Tobacco & Drugs:

This includes content that advertises or promotes tobacco and drug products, like cannabis, marijuana, and CBD. Examples are messages about cigarette sales, tobacco accessories, or smoking events.

High-Risk or Deceptive Content

Every service provider, aggregator, and mobile carrier have different rules making it impossible to know exactly what content might result in a blocked message. We also recommend avoiding messages that reference:

  • Gambling
  • Stock alerts
  • MLM's or multi-level marketing
  • Get rich quick schemes
  • Other drugs
  • Deceptive or misleading practices
  • Make extraordinary claims
  • Link to malicious sites

How to Ensure Compliance

  1. Always obtain consent from your contacts.
  2. Keep contact lists up to date
  3. Respect opt-out requests (Text-Em-All automatically handles this when a user texts the word STOP to your number)
  4. Respect National & State Do Not Call Registries
  5. Identify yourself or your organization 
  6. Don't send messages outside of normal business hours
  7. Don't send messages more than 3 times per day
  8. Regularly review the content of your messages to ensure they comply with regulations and guidelines.
  9. Educate your team on what constitutes prohibited content and the importance of compliance.
  10. Establish clear internal guidelines for message content and communicate these to all relevant team members.
  11. If prohibited content is identified, immediately address the issue and prevent future occurrences.

These are basic suggestions. We recommend consulting with legal counsel that is familiar with TCPA law to ensure full compliance.

Best practices when sending messages

While a blocked number by the carriers is out of our control, there are some best practices to keep in mind as you compose your message to minimize the chances of being blocked:

  • Clearly identify your organization or business in the body of your message. 

    • For example: "[Insert Your Business Name]: You have an appointment for Tuesday at 3:00 PM. Let us know if you have any questions!"

  • Clearly state your audience if applicable (i.e. employees, members)

  • Avoid using words or phrases that could be mistaken as gambling-related or promotional in nature.

    • Promotional words or phrases: Cash, On Sale, 50% off, Buy Now, etc. 

    • Gambling-related words: Poker, bingo, lottery, casino, hold-em, etc. 

    • For example, alerting your staff of a bingo game or the upcoming sales within your store. While these are informational within the context of your account, they could still be perceived as spam by our carriers.  

  • Refrain from using free URL shorteners

  • Don't include a callback number that is different from the number you are sending the message from (Call forwarding is available for Text-Em-All text numbers - please contact our Customer Experience team to set this up!)

  • Avoid using all caps and excessive punctuation (THANKS, ASAP, LVN, MBA, @, %, !!!, ???)

  • Don't use a cash or payment handle "@sendmemoney" in your messages. We have seen a large number of blocks when including requests for donations to cash or payment apps.

Frequently Asked Questions