Simply put, preventing fraud is the underlying reason for an SMS Sender ID application protocol.  

To prevent fraud and spoof text messages from reaching a user’s phone, Sender ID verification verifies the sender of the message.

Businesses can easily apply for a custom Sender ID (or sender name) with Messente. But, security barriers can arise when getting it approved.

Our operations team has a thorough process of validating alphanumeric Sender IDs and all Sender IDs are monitored for a period of time to be sure that our customers are abiding by our service’s terms and conditions.

To understand why we’re strict about Sender IDs, we need to zoom out a bit and look at how and why SMS fraud occurs.

What is a Sender ID?

First, let's make sure we know exactly what a Sender ID is.

An SMS Sender ID or SMS Customer ID (or simply put sender name) is the displayed value of who sent the message on your handset with a registered mobile number.

Sender ID is the name or number that identifies who the text message is from (or the sender). An example is your friend sending a text to your phone. The Sender ID of your friend will be their phone number or name. It may be a shortened number too, like a shortcode such as 12302, or contain characters e.g CoffeeShop.

Picture showing what is an SMS Sender ID

The different types of Sender IDs are usually the first points touched upon when starting to use the SMS Gateway service.

There are three types of Sender ID (or from addresses):

  • Long numbers

  • Shortcodes

  • Alphanumeric

Long numbers are numerical Sender IDs, which have the same number of characters as national mobile numbers (up to 15 digits long, not including the + symbol). For example, 3725953854.

Picture showing an example of a long number sender ID

An example of a long number Sender ID

Shortcodes are special numerical Sender IDs that are shorter than the regular numeric senders. These types of senders may have different uses depending on the region the messages are being sent.

Generally in Europe, shortcodes are used for things like customer support, voting, premium rate services, etc. Whereas in Latin America, shortcodes are the most typical types of Sender IDs for general texting purposes, for example, 12302.

Alphanumeric Sender IDs are sender names that are composed of letters from the alphabet (A-Z), and numeric characters. This Sender ID represents the brand name and is displayed as such when you receive a message (e.g. new text message received from Messente). This is great for single-way communication with your customers.

It is important to note that not all countries and operators offer all these Sender IDs for use even if the SMS service provider supports them.

SMS spoofing

An SMS spoofing attack is when a scammer sends you a spoof text message. What makes the text a 'spoof'? A scammer will change the Sender ID number or name for a sender name of a trusted company, brand, or service. They aim to commit some sort of fraud and get access to your private data.

“SMS originator” is another term used in the industry which refers to Sender ID. Sending spoof text messages is also referred to as "SMS originator spoofing".

A third of respondents to a MEF survey said that they’ve received an SMS from someone who claimed to be someone else.

The fraudulent sender’s ultimate goal is typically financial gain, which can be achieved in several ways:

  • SMS phishing, also known as SMiShing, occurs when a scammer poses as a reputable brand to extract user credentials. For example, a scammer posing as a bank sends a message to mobile users with a link to a fake banking website, asking users to log in to change their passwords. This can also happen with email accounts. If the user falls for the scam, the scammers can access their accounts and view their private financial data.

  • SMS malware messages are sent to mobile devices with a link, similar to SMS phishing. The link, in this case, triggers a download of malware that is installed on the device. Files can be accessed and the device might not even function anymore.

  • Social hacking occurs when scammers pose as popular social media websites, linking users to a fake login page to extract login credentials. Once the credentials are obtained, hackers can use real social media accounts to further access a person’s digital life and financial information.

With a spoofed sender name or ID, these attacks become easier to do. It may be obvious to you that a scammer is trying to commit spoofing when a large company like Apple or Barclays bank text you out of the blue asking for your password details, but the SMS spoofing professionals will take advantage of small local brands to make it harder to spot.

Spoofers can cause damage in other ways. A spoof text can damage the reputation of businesses and brands as SMS messages can be sent in their names to send spam and abusive content to their mobile users and customers.

SMS spoofing is usually done in mass quantities. Scammers orchestrate large-scale spoofing attacks and work together to make the scam successful. If only 1% of users fall for the scam but the scale of the SMS spoofing attack was 10,000 people, the scam was still effective.

The same goes for shortcode registration

The attacks mentioned above don’t necessarily require a link to a spoofed website to get sensitive information from the victims.

With two-way SMS, scammers can receive responses from users. A scammer can ask a user security questions that allow them to log in to their online accounts. With this information, scammers can change passwords or PIN codes and access a range of financial information.

Along with SMS Sender ID registrations, shortcodes (and long codes) for two-way SMS have to be verified and checked across the entire messaging value chain – to specific mobile network operators (MNOs,) within specific countries.

Further complexities

The global SMS messaging ecosystem is not uniform, including the enterprise A2P ecosystem. While the industry works to improve networks and SS7 to innovate further, messaging is complex, because rules and laws have developed over the years to keep up with the pace of technology. And regulations vary by country.

Thus, the process of appropriately registering a Sender ID or shortcode becomes more complex as a business or brand operates in more countries – even if the Sender ID should be the same in every geographical market. Some countries have a lengthy registration process through MNOs and hubs, while others don’t even allow alpha Sender IDs.

SMS is the most trusted messaging platform

Don't let spoofing put you off from using SMS. Mobile users trust SMS more than any other messaging platform, according to MEF. Customers love it for its ease of use and well-rounded security. The SMS industry must adhere to strict data protection laws and regulations to prevent data breaches and the laws are updated regularly.

Messaging fraud costs the world $2bn annually (MEF.) A portion of that is within the industry itself (e.g. grey routes) another part of it to mobile users, and some portion comes from fraud within brands and businesses.

$2bn, that’s a big number. That number places pressure on the industry as a whole to tackle fraud, especially SMS originator spoofing. Failure to tackle scamming could cause A2P messaging use to fizzle out and technological innovation could be stunted.

As we’re transparent about how we do things as a company, we hope the same from our customers, which is why we ask questions about SMS message volumes, geographical markets, and SMS content expectations.

As a participant in this industry, Messente strives to provide the highest quality service to brands and businesses of all sizes sending business-critical messages. We are constantly working to protect the businesses that work with us and their customers from fraud.