Decoding SMS Scams: ALPHA ID Register Necessity

The Battle Against SMS Scams: Debating the Need for an SMS ALPHA Sender ID Register

In recent years, SMS scams have become a growing concern, targeting unsuspecting individuals and causing financial losses. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has taken decisive action against telcos that breached regulations by allowing SMS scams to reach consumers. While many applaud these efforts, there is a difference of opinion regarding the establishment of an SMS ALPHA Sender ID register. Laurence Buchanan, CEO of BNS Group, supports ACMA’s investigations and actions but opposes the formation of an agency to develop an SMS ALPHA Sender ID register. Buchanan argues for a simpler solution, similar to the United States and New Zealand, by abolishing ALPHA Sender Identification  altogether. In this blog post, we will delve into this debate and explore the implications of both approaches.

Understanding the ACMA’s Investigations:

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is responsible for regulating and enforcing the rules and guidelines governing Australia’s communication and media landscape. In May 2023, ACMA announced that several telcos had breached their obligations by allowing SMS scams to infiltrate consumer devices. This move highlights the seriousness of the issue and demonstrates the authority’s commitment to protecting consumers from fraudulent activities.

Supporting ACMA’s Actions:

Laurence Buchanan, CEO of BNS Group, stands firmly in support of the ACMA investigations and subsequent actions taken against telcos involved in enabling SMS scams. He acknowledges the need for stricter regulations and the importance of holding telecommunication companies accountable for their role in facilitating fraudulent activities. Buchanan’s backing of the ACMA’s initiatives underscores the shared goal of safeguarding consumers and maintaining trust in the telecommunications industry.

The Debate Surrounding an SMS ALPHA Sender ID Register:

While Buchanan agrees with the ACMA’s actions, he disagrees with the establishment of an agency dedicated to developing an SMS ALPHA Sender ID register. This register would require businesses to register and verify their SMS ALPHA Sender IDs, providing greater transparency to recipients. Instead, Buchanan proposes a simpler alternative, inspired by the United States and New Zealand, which involves the abolition of Sender Identification (alpha codes) altogether.

Abolishing ALPHA Sender Identification:

Buchanan’s argument centers on the idea that abolishing ALPHA Sender Identification entirely, as practiced in the United States and New Zealand, would eliminate the need for an SMS ALPHA Sender ID register.  In New Zealand, mobile operators require SMS messages to be delivered through dedicated short code Sender ID only.  In the United States 10 digit Long codes are used.    By adopting a similar approach, Australia could potentially improve its ability to reduce SMS scams.  

Examining the Implications:

While Buchanan’s proposal may seem straightforward, it is crucial to consider the potential implications of abolishing ALPHA sender IDs. Abolishing alpha codes could disrupt existing systems that rely on ALPHA Sender IDs, requiring significant adjustments across various industries. Equally, the logistics and controls required of a centralised ALPHA Sender ID register could cause legal disputes on the use of certain ALPHA characters as a form of Identification. 

Controlling SMS originating from overseas and attempting to check the legitimate use of an ALPHA Sender ID here in Australia will be complex.  To set up a registry of ALPHA Sender IDs and then attempt to control who has the right to send as “Google”, “NAB”, “Nab”, “ATO”, “Ato” or “BNS” will be complex. International SMS routing agreements will need to be considered by the ACMA initiative to check SMS ALPHA Sender IDs originating from overseas. 

Case sensitivity in an ALPHA SMS Sender ID has already affected one BNS customer sending Upper and lower-case Alpha Sender IDs using one major SMS Service provider in Australia. BNS versus Bns for example.     

Finding the Middle Ground:

In the battle against SMS scams, it is essential to strike a balance between enhanced security and seamless communication. While the establishment of an SMS ALPHA Sender ID register may introduce additional administrative measures, it also offers a centralised mechanism to combat fraud effectively. By leveraging a combination of measures, such as strengthening regulations, enforcing penalties for breaches, and exploring innovative technological solutions, Australia can foster a safer SMS ecosystem without sacrificing user experience. 


The fight against SMS scams requires collaboration between regulatory authorities, telecommunication companies, and industry stakeholders. The ACMA’s investigations and subsequent actions against telcos involved in SMS scams have been commendable. However, the debate regarding the need for an SMS ALPHA Sender ID register offers an opportunity to evaluate alternative solutions. Laurence Buchanan’s suggestion of abolishing ALPHA Sender IDs, inspired by the United States and New Zealand, presents a contrasting perspective. 

Once ACMA introduce the SMS ALPHA Sender ID register, consumers may fall victim to scams more easily in the belief that SMS messages arriving on their device are now checked via a central registry and are therefore secure.  If there is any loophole which a scammer can use to send a SMS with an ALPHA Sender ID it may cause consumers to be less vigilant about clicking links in SMS messages.      

Ultimately, finding a middle ground that balances security and user experience is crucial. While Laurence Buchanan’s proposal to abolish ALPHA Sender IDs offers a streamlined approach, it may have unintended consequences and potentially hamper legitimate communication.

To address this issue comprehensively, it is essential for regulators, telecommunications companies, and industry experts to collaborate and explore innovative solutions. This can include strengthening regulations to prevent telcos from enabling SMS scams, imposing penalties for non-compliance, and implementing advanced technological measures to detect and filter fraudulent messages.

Simultaneously, efforts can be made to enhance consumer education and awareness about SMS scams, equipping them with the knowledge to identify and avoid falling victim to fraudulent activities. By fostering a proactive and informed user base, the impact of SMS scams can be significantly reduced.

Additionally, leveraging technological advancements, such as machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence, can help identify patterns and characteristics of SMS scams, enabling swift detection and mitigation.

In conclusion, while the establishment of an SMS ALPHA Sender ID register may introduce administrative complexities, it offers a centralised mechanism to help combat fraud effectively. However, it is essential to explore alternative solutions, striking a balance between security and user experience. By combining regulatory measures, industry cooperation, and technological innovations, Australia can strive towards a safer SMS ecosystem that protects consumers from scams while facilitating seamless communication.

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