Standard Vs. Premium Text Message Charges: a Guide to SMS Fees

A Guide to SMS Fees and Charges

Winning quick and easy with text message sweepstakes.
••• Image © Getty Images / Urs Kuester

Entering SMS sweepstakes is a fast and fun way to win. However, while all sweepstakes are free text message sweepstakes may have charges associated with them that online sweepstakes do not. There are two types of SMS fees to watch out for before you enter sweepstakes by text: standard and premium text message charges.

What Are Standard Text Message Charges?

If you read the rules of SMS sweepstakes, you might see a line that says something like: "standard text message rates apply." These are the fees you pay your mobile provider to send or receive SMS messages. How much you'll pay, or if you need to pay anything at all, depends on your individual service plan. Some of the common options include:

  • Unlimited Text Messaging: For one flat rate, you can send and receive as many text messages as you like.
  • Limited Text Messaging: For a flat rate, you can send a specific number of text messages at no additional charge. This could be a couple of hundred messages or more than a thousand, depending on your plan.
  • Per-Message Charges: You are charged a fee, usually a few cents, for each text message you send or receive.

Note that these fees are not directly controlled by the sweepstakes' sponsors and the sponsors do not profit from them. Those fees don't fall under consideration laws for the company hosting the giveaway.

Be aware that many SMS sweepstakes make agreeing to receive mobile marketing messages from the sponsor a condition of entering them. If you are paying for every SMS message, these charges can stack up quickly. If you are not interested in the messages, be sure to unsubscribe to keep your costs down. You will probably receive a text message giving you a short code and keyword to unsubscribe from these messages.

Premium Text Message Charges:

Premium text message charges are fees that are charged by the SMS sweepstakes' sponsors to contact them by text message. Premium text message fees are charged in addition to the standard messaging fees your mobile provider may apply, and they can be fairly hefty.

Premium text message charges are often used to sell you for things like ringtones or subscriptions. When it comes to sweepstakes, premium fees are usually a one-time charge for entering. Be careful to always read the rules carefully to find out what the fees will be and carefully decide whether paying them is worthwhile to you. There may be alternate entry methods, such as through a website or by mail, that are free or cost less.

Is It Legal to Charge Premium Messaging Fees to Enter Sweepstakes?

It is debatable whether sweepstakes sponsors are allowed to charge premium text message fees, which could qualify as a consideration.

For example, the television game show "Deal or No Deal" was sued in 2008 for running a giveaway that charged entrants premium fees for entering. The lawsuit was dismissed on other grounds, and so there is still no conclusive decision about whether the fees qualify as considerations. But alternate entry methods that give you the same chance of winning offer a consideration-free way of entering.

Beware of Premium Text Message Charge Scams:

While some legitimate sweepstakes do charge premium messaging fees to enter, they can also be abused by scammers.

Some scammers run legitimate-looking giveaways with the goal of making money through unreasonably high premium message fees. You might think that you are texting a simple trivia question to enter, but in fact, you are paying $4 or more for each text you send or receive. And there might seem to be no way to unsubscribe. 

Scamwatch has a breakdown of how premium text message scams work. Be sure to carefully vet any sweepstakes offers you receive by text and make sure that any giveaway you enter has a full set of rules. Read the rules carefully to find out how much you will be paying to enter.

You can contact your mobile service provider to ask them to block premium messaging fees if you don't want to risk accidentally agreeing to the charges.