Protect yourself from spam | ACMA

Protect yourself from spam

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What is spam?

Spam is an unwanted commercial electronic message—something that offers, advertises or promotes, goods or services. This could include products, real estate or investment opportunities. Because it’s electronic, you can receive spam on your mobile or on your computer. Generally, if it’s not commercial, it’s not spam. So, messages like appointment reminders, fault notifications or service messages that don’t have promotional or advertising content, are not considered spam and aren’t covered by the Spam Act 2003.

If you are concerned about messages sent via fax or telephone calls, find out more on the Do Not Call Register website.

Spam can be sent by email, SMS, MMS, instant message or any other electronic message format. Other types of electronic message (personal and non-commercial) are not covered by the spam laws. These laws also generally don’t cover malware or other malicious emails.

Telemarketing calls are not spam. Different rules apply to these.

What are the rules?

There are three main elements that a message must include:

  1. Permission—messages must not be sent to you without your permission (or consent)
  2. Identification—messages must contain the name and contact details of the sender
  3. Unsubscribe—messages must contain a way for you to say stop (or unsubscribe).

Key rules

  1. Permission

    A business must have your permission before sending you a message. This can be obtained in different ways.

    • Express, or direct, permission—you agree to receive marketing. For example, by ticking a checkbox in an online form
    • Inferred, or indirect, permission—is based on an existing relationship. For example, if you have a bank credit card, that bank may contact you with related offers.

      It’s important to know that you can withdraw your permission at any time. You can do this in writing, over the phone or by using an unsubscribe function. If you withdraw your permission, an organisation must stop sending you messages (usually within five working days).

  2. Identification

    The message must clearly state the name of the business, and also the contact details. This could be an email address, phone number or street address. In an SMS, the details might be displayed as caller ID.

  3. Unsubscribe

    Any message must have a way for you to say ‘stop’ getting more messages. For example, an email may have a link that says, ‘to unsubscribe, click here’. An SMS may include the words ‘reply STOP to opt-out’, or ‘reply stop’. This must be at low or no cost to you.

Are some messages exempt from the spam rules?

Some messages are exempt from most of the rules and only require the name and contact details of the sender to be included. This means the messages can be sent to you without your permission and are not required to include an unsubscribe statement. This applies to:

  • messages that contain only factual information, such as a newsletter, providing it does not contain any ads or offers
  • messages sent by:
    • registered charities
    • educational institutions, to current and former students
    • government bodies
    • registered political parties.

Find out more about the spam obligations for industry.

How can I stop or report spam?

If the email or SMS looks like it is from a real business, the quickest way to stop getting the spam is to unsubscribe. If you think the sender is suspicious, you should not respond or unsubscribe from the message.

If you are using a web-based email address, such as Gmail or Yahoo, activate the junk or spam email preferences. You may also buy spam-filtering software.

On your mobile phone, you can block specific numbers, and telephone numbers by area code.

You can also make a complaint to the ACMA about any messages you think may break the spam laws.

If you don’t want to make a formal complaint, you can forward the message to our spam intelligence database—these reports provide us with useful information about spam trends and potential compliance issues.

Further information:

Last updated: 25 March 2019