Global Coverage

Handling Deactivated Phone Numbers

A deactivated phone number is one that a mobile operator has taken out of service for an end user, either because the end user has switched operator or has otherwise closed their account. Eventually all deactivated numbers are recycled and activated for new subscribers. What this means is that it's easy to mistakenly send a text message to a phone number that has been reassigned to an end user who has not opted in to your program.

This is important for messaging in the US because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers this spam and can impose fines for sending a message to a user who is not opted in. Fines can be up to $1,500 per MT message per end user, and you may also be subject to a class action lawsuit.

Complicating the situation further is the fact that mobile operators do not keep numbers inactive for the same amount of time. Some reassign a deactivated number in as little as two days, while others wait 50 days before reassigning a number.

Example: How a mobile phone gets deactivated

A business has Jennifer's phone number and her consent to receive text messages. In other words, Jennifer has explicitly "opted in" to the business's messaging program.

One day, Jennifer switches her mobile phone service from one operator to another, giving up the phone number that she used to opt in to the program. In other words, Jennifer did not port or take her mobile phone number with her when she switched mobile operators. The mobile operator puts her phone number on its deactivation list. This particular operator keeps deactivated numbers inactive for two days.

If the business attempts to send a text message to the phone number during the two-day deactivation period, the message will fail and the business will receive an error code from OpenMarket indicating that the number is currently in an operator's deactivation file. However, after three days, the mobile operator re-assigns the deactivated phone number to another subscriber. Now if the business attempts to send a text message to the phone number, the message will succeed because the number is no longer deactivated; however, the end user (who is not Jennifer) will be confused and perhaps annoyed about receiving a text they did not request. Unfortunately, this constitutes spam and exposes the business to statutory penalties associated with the TCPA. It does not matter that the consumer was on an unlimited messaging plan or that you sent the messages as Free To End User (FTEU); the message is still considered spam because the new phone number owner did not opt in to receive it.

How OpenMarket helps

OpenMarket helps mitigate the risk of sending messages to deactivated numbers in these ways:

  • Providing Deactivated Phone Numbers reports ("Deact" reports)
    We provide Deact reports to help you keep your phone number lists current. The reports originate from the mobile operators and contain the phone numbers associated with deactivate and disconnect events in their systems. By making the reports available, you can keep your records up to date such that you do not inadvertently send MT messages to phone numbers that are no longer opted in to your programs.
  • Checking requests
    We check your SMS and MMS messages against the current list of deactivated numbers. See How we check your 'send message' requests below.
  • Removing end users from MEP subscriptions
    We remove deactivated phone numbers from your MEP subscriptions. See How MEP handles deactivated numbers below.

Note: Although the largest US mobile operators provide deact reports, most smaller operators do not. See below for the full list of operators providing reports.

What OpenMarket expects of you

Retrieving and processing the deact reports on a daily basis is imperative. You can:

Use the information to remove deactivated phone numbers from your messaging contact list before they are assigned to new subscribers. Mobile operators are allowed to reassign an inactive phone number within as little as two days of deactivation, so you should retrieve and process the deact reports on a daily basis.

We also recommend that you contact the previous owner of a deactivated number to request that they opt in with their new phone number. If you choose not to do this, then you should not send messages to them until they opt in after the date the phone number first appears in the Deactivated Phone Numbers report.

Important: Do not send Standard Rate or FTEU (Free-To-End-User) SMS or MMS messages to a mobile phone number that appears in any of the Deactivated Phone Numbers reports, regardless of which message originator you are using: short code, text-enabled toll-free number, or local number (long code or text-enabled landline).

How we check your 'send message' requests

When you send an SMS or MMS message request, our platform checks the destination phone number against the current list of deactivated phone numbers for Verizon and Sprint, and their respective MVNOs.

If our platform determines that a phone number is deactivated then we do not forward the message to the operator. Instead we take one of the following actions.

If you're using...

Then...

SMS APIs

We fail the message request and return a delivery report with the code 3041.

MMS APIs

We fail the message request and return a delivery report, either:

  • HTTP — outcome ID: "17", description: "Recipient deactivated"
  • MM7 — status: "Rejected", status text: "Recipient deactivated"

When you receive the above error/outcome codes, you should promptly update your application and phone number list. You may also want to contact the end user who has changed her phone number to obtain her new number. Taking both of these actions should prevent messages from being delivered to an end user who has not opted in to your program.

Important: Do not rely solely on error codes to indicate need for reviewing a phone number list.

How MEP handles deactivated numbers

In MEP, we proactively remove deactivated numbers from all subscription lists. This includes end users in protected subscriptions, and regardless of whether they have other identifiers like an email address.

However, if you manually upload lists of numbers (e.g. when broadcasting), we do not check whether the list contains numbers that are currently deactivated. Therefore, you must check the deactivation reports if you are maintaining your own subscription lists outside of MEP.

How to manage ported numbers

When an end user switches mobile operators, they often port (i.e., carry over) their existing phone number to the new operator. When this happens, the number is included in the original operator's deactivation list.

If you're using our APIs, and message an end user specifying the original mobile operator, we fail the message. In this circumstance you should perform a lookup and see if the number is being serviced by a new operator and then send the message request again. Make sure to update your application with the new information so that future messages succeed.

Note: If your SMS message request doesn't include the mobile operator ID, you might still receive error code 3041, as the operator look-up will return the operator. After that, the deactivation list is checked. However, as shown above, this will not happen if the number was ported as the operator lookup will return the new operator for the number.

Mobile operators that provide deactivated phone number reports

The largest US mobile operators provide deact reports, however many smaller operators do not. Of those operators that do provide the information, they do it differently due to the lack of an industry standard. A given report can contain deactivate/disconnect events from a specific mobile operator, and may contain additional information such as how long the phone number will remain deactivated before it is recycled and given to a new subscriber. For mobile operators that have MVNOs, deactivation information for these operators is included in the mobile operator's deactivation file.

The information in the table below is subject to change. OpenMarket will update the table as we process reports from additional mobile operators. We make all reports available daily and the content of each report is incremental, meaning that it contains only phone numbers for which the deactivation status changed from the previous report.

US Mobile operators providing deact reports

Mobile operator

ID

Report assignment ID

Age of data

Deactivation period

AT&T

383

att-deacts

Previous day

2 days

Bandwidth 766 bandwidth-deacts Previous day 30 days

BlueGrass Cellular

562

blueGrass-deacts

Previous day

2 days

Boost

586

boost-deacts

Previous day

50 days

Limitless Mobile

588

immix-deacts

Previous day

2 days

Sprint

34

sprint-deacts

Previous day

50 days

T-Mobile USA

79

tmobile-deacts

Previous day

2 days

Tracfone

383

attTracfone-deacts

Previous day

2 days

U.S. Cellular

56

usCellular-deacts

Previous day

2 days

Verizon Wireless

77

verizon-deacts

Previous hour

31 days

West Central Wireless

559

westCentral-deacts

Previous day

2 days

  • Report assignment IDs are the names of the files available from Customer Center Reporting.
  • Age of data refers to when a phone number was deactivated.
  • Deactivation period is the number of calendar days a phone number is deactivated.