Spam and fraud don’t just affect our email or phones; both are prevalent in the text messaging medium, too. While a lot of fraud and spam are intentional, there are also plenty of instances where the sender doesn’t realize they’re communicating with the recipient in a way that would be considered as such. This can be especially true for businesses and their customers.
In this episode of Zipcast, host Scott Heimes talks to Zipwhip’s fraud and spam data analyst, Carter Harris, to chat about how the Zipwhip texting network stays protected, the consequences of businesses texting incorrectly, his opinions on best practices with business texting, and where to find more information on topics discussed.
Listen to the full conversation below.
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Scott Heimes: Welcome to the Zipcast, where we talk about the latest trends and texting for business, customer communications strategies, and technology. I am your host, Scott Heimes, Chief Marketing Officer at Zipwhip. Thanks for tuning in.
Whether it’s making a phone call, sending an email or texting for business, there is a right way and a wrong way to communicate. Unfortunately, some businesses find themselves using the texting medium incorrectly, and get their messages blocked as a result. Today, we speak with Carter Harris, a Fraud and Spam Analyst here at Zipwhip, who gives us the download on business texting fraud, spam and what we can do about it.
He’ll share texting best practices with us, to help your company avoid getting on the wrong side of this tricky issue. Stick around.
Welcome to the Zipcast, Carter.
Carter Harris: Hey, thanks a lot Scott.
Scott Heimes: All right, Carter, tell us what you do for Zipwhip?
Carter Harris: Shan, my counterpart and I, we’re the investigative arm of our Messaging Operations Team. At our core, we analyze traffic patterns from toll free traffic, and do our best to make sure that the person receiving a text message from a business really wants to receive that message. I sort of think of our jobs as a part big data analyst, and part private investigators. We also work with our customers and business partners to help them understand how the message the right way.
Scott Heimes: Besides you and Shan, there’s actually quite a large infrastructure in place to help protect the Zipwhip texting network.
Carter Harris: Yeah, absolutely. On the spam and fraud side, Shan and I employed the gold standard in filtering machine learning and natural language processing that analyzes messages, traffic patterns and can help us filter out a lot of spam and fraud. In terms of network reliability, we have a 24/7 department that ensures deliverability and ensures that if we do undergo any programmatic attacks from bad actors trying to get into the network, they’re monitoring it 24/7. They have a great team over there as well.
Scott Heimes: All right, so what is fraud? What is spam? As we think about it in the medium of texting.
Carter Harris: Sure. Fraud and spam are kind of … It’s ubiquitous across almost all communication channels. You’ve heard about those IRS scams where you get a phone call from a number and the person on the other end says that you owe the IRS a couple thousand dollars, and there’s a SWAT team outside your window ready to tear gas you if you don’t give up your credit card info. Everybody’s kind of heard that throughout the news. That’s one example of it.
Fraud generally is pretty varied, but typically it’s someone trying to pretend they’re someone they’re not to get your credentials, get your credit card info, to get some sort of monetary gain out of you. Spam is a little bit trickier. There’s kind of a by-the-book definition and a cultural definition. You can build a qualification matrix based off of TCPA, which we kind of use for our framework. They have a good definition of spam in there.
But the colloquial definition is sort of, did you want to receive that message or not? When we’re looking at the data, we kind of have to pull out okay is this something that the TCPA says, in the framework we’ve built, that that’s okay? Or did they just not want that message that time? Did they forget that they signed up for that?
Scott Heimes: Got it. Why is this important for us? We invest a lot of people and technology effort in preventing fraud and preventing spam. Why is this crucial for us as a company?
Carter Harris: I think we are kind of entrusted as the aggregator for toll free. So, a lot of our customers, and even some of the carriers, look to us as short code is sort of fading out to kind of say, “Hey, these are the rules and restrictions. This is what you can do. This is what you can’t do on toll free.” While we partner very closely with the carriers on that, there’s a lot of day to day and lower just sort of tactical decisions that the carriers and our customers look to us for guidance for. That’s what Shan and I do every single day.
Scott Heimes: I think of other mediums like voice or email that are becoming increasingly spammy. Just robocalls alone on your mobile number is enough to drive you insane. How does fraud prevention work there that’s different than texting?
Carter Harris: In terms of on the call side, it’s really the entire ecosystem’s responsibility to come together, to stop fraudulent calls and robocalling. It’s a really big issue. The FCC, that’s the Federal Communications Commission, released a statistic that over 200,000 – that’s around 60% – of their total complaints each year are about unwanted calls. That’s a huge amount of calls. They administered a law that we’ve all heard all of, the TCPA, which deals with that.
Then you have the FTC, which is the Federal Trade Commission, that administers two laws that are similar to the TCPA, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Do Not Call or DNC registry. The FTC recently reached a settlement with four of the largest robocalling outfits in the country to the tune of some $300 million dollars. These robocall outfits are responsible for billions and billions of unwanted and illegal calls.
To answer whose responsibility is it to stop robocalls, well it really is a team effort. While email’s covered under different laws, email spam started off with the MAPS Program, the Mail Abuse Prevention System, which basically blacklisted IP addresses that was known to send out spam. Once you had large corporations like AOL, Yahoo, Google, once they were able to aggregate spam data points in the email and apply more sophisticated filtering, email spam all drops into a neat folder now that you’ll never have to see.
Scott Heimes: Yeah, I know one of our I think core goals as a company is to maintain the purity of the texting medium, right?
Carter Harris: Mm-hmm.
Scott Heimes: And to not allow texting to fall prey to that kind of fraudulent behavior as being common. I applaud your efforts in that. Tell us about the consequences of businesses texting incorrectly, meaning they send undesired messages to customers or to recipients.
Carter Harris: Sure. There’s kind of two different categories of this. One is legally. There are some fines that a company could incur if they’re texting the wrong way. Some are social. [Marshall McLuhan] was the one who coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” For instance, the text messages are really good for sending a cat GIF or starting a group message to organize a softball team, but you wouldn’t break up with a significant other over text message, or at least I hope you wouldn’t. There’s a social aspect and a social fallout of texting the wrong way as well, that businesses need to be conscious of.
Scott Heimes: Tell us more about that. What are your opinions about best practices of texting for business?
Carter Harris: Sure. The biggest thing a business can do, obviously besides complying with all applicable communication laws that their lawyers can provide more information on, is giving customers the option on how they want to receive communications. Don’t force people to opt in to receive your service. When you have a sign in workflow, don’t make receiving those messages mandatory. Communicate with your customers on how many messages they’re going to receive, how often they’re going to receive them, how they can opt out of receiving those messages. Set those expectations early on in your relationship with your customers. If you do that, generally both you and your customers are going to have a really great experience.
Scott Heimes: Where can listeners find out more about best practices for business texting?
Carter Harris: Really, there’s a lot of content out there about text messaging best practices. Call me biased, but frankly I do think that Zipwhip has some of the most comprehensive material out there mainly because our solution focuses on the wholistic messaging experience. We don’t really constrain ourselves to one use case or one industry. By doing that, we really can speak to the entire messaging ecosystem. That being said, there are great guidelines for messaging out there but more specific questions, you should always consult with your legal counsel.
Scott Heimes: Yeah, and the Resources section on Zipwhip.com does have some great content around best practices of business texting, for sure. Maybe lastly, there’s some things that individual consumers can do to help maintain the superiority of the texting medium, and support identifying fraudulent behavior. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Carter Harris: Yeah, so actually the industry has responded in a huge way, really to help stem the onslaught of robocalls. They’re being proactive about text messaging now. A few examples, newer Android phones have a spam warning built in that turns the screen red if it’s a suspicious phone call, and give you the option to report a spam text in the details section of the text message.
Verizon, for instance, has taken it upon themselves to do the same thing on their phones. Really, putting safeguards in place to make sure the end users aren’t getting harassed goes to show that the carriers understand really what’s at stake. They give you a lot of options to give feedback on phone numbers and messages that aren’t there. A solid standby and cold standard is texting a message and forwarding that to 7726, which spells out SPAM on the old three tap phone numbers, their flip phones. Carriers compile a list of reported messages and message content so they can filter that out and run diagnostics on that as well.
Scott Heimes: Got it. Well that’s certainly helpful. This has been a really fascinating peek behind the curtain of fraud and spam prevention. Thanks so much for coming on the Zipcast, Carter.
Carter Harris: Hey, absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Scott Heimes: Thanks for joining us. Make sure you subscribe to the Zipcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, so you get the latest episodes. Feel free to text us with topics you’d like to hear about, or other feedback for the show. Just text 206-582-3740 any time of the day. Until next time.