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S.H.A.F.T. Guidelines and Prohibited SMS Content: What You Should Know

Just like any other marketing channel, text message (SMS) marketing follows certain regulations, industry standards and guidelines.


At SMSBump, we look after our users and want to make sure you send only the highest quality messages to your subscribers, compliant with all regulations and respectful of customers. Therefore, it’s important that you become familiar with those requirements before beginning to use SMS to market products, promote sales or simply - communicate with shoppers. 


Provided you are a brand that sells to US customers, you need to ensure your SMS marketing abides by the rules listed in the TCPA guide, and follows the CTIA best practices

Just like in the CAN-SPAM act for email, SMS marketing observes several types of content that are prohibited by the legislation and the carriers. They fall under three categories: S.H.A.F.T., Prohibited content and Carrier SPAM Mitigation. 


What is S.H.A.F.T.? 


The CTIA-created and monitored S.H.A.F.T. is an acronym which stands for Sex, Hate, Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco, and it outlines the categories of text messages that can’t be sent due to moral and legal issues. 


As of recently, S.H.A.F.T. also covers any messages that contain verbiage related to Vaping, CBD, marijuana/cannabis, and any content associated with either one of these.   


Both mobile carriers and SMS service providers (like us) take compliance seriously, which is why messages that contain words remotely related to the categories listed in S.H.A.F.T., will be flagged by providers and blocked by carriers.


Although not technically a law, the S.H.A.F.T. guidelines should be taken seriously by anyone using SMS to communicate with consumers in order to remain compliant with the CTIA best practices and carriers’ requirements.


You can find more information on the S.H.A.F.T. regulation in the CTIA’s Handbook. 


Other Prohibited Content 


Other than the S.H.A.F.T. content restrictions, the CTIA also calls out several other message categories that must be excluded out of all SMS communications: 


  • Depictions and endorsement of violence

  • Adult or otherwise inappropriate content

  • Profanity

  • Hate/discriminatory speech 

  • Endorsement of illegal or illicit drugs


Refer to the CTIA’s Handbook, section A.5 for additional information. 


Carrier SPAM Mitigation 


Without Mobile Carriers, no business would be able to send any type of text message content. As a gatekeeper between a brand and its customers, each mobile carrier has the right to issue their own guidelines when it comes to text message content. Of course, with the actual laws and industry best practices taken into consideration. 


AT&T’s SPAM Mitigation Policy, for instance, explicitly prohibits the sending of any High Risk Financial offers, including: 

  • Loan origination and matching

  • Payday loans

  • Short-term loans

  • Auto loans

  • Mortgage loans

  • Student loans

  • Debt consolidation and reduction

  • Investment opportunities

  • Credit repair programs

  • Tax relief programs

  • Work from home programs


Just like with messaging containing any of the S.H.A.F.T. wording, carriers will block all messages containing any high-risk financial offers. 


Occasionally exceptions are made for specific use cases, but only after careful scrutiny by both the service provider and mobile carrier. Reach out to us at if you have a request or question about any of the above-mentioned policies and regulations. We are happy to discuss alternative ways you can market to your audience and still remain compliant with both the TCPA & the CTIA guidelines. 

Finally, make sure to check out our Terms of Service, section 2.7,  to review the full list of restricted content. 

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