What Shortcodes Are and How to Use Them

If You Want to Enter Text Sweepstakes, You'll Need This Skill

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••• Texting to shortcodes is easy. Here's how:. Roberto Westbrook / Getty Images

If you want to enter text message sweepstakes, you'll often see instructions in the sweepstakes rules that look something like this: "To enter, text the keyword ENTER to shortcode 22222."

But what is a shortcode?

A shortcode is a shortened telephone number that companies use for mobile marketing. Shortcodes are easier to type on a small smartphone keypad than the entire telephone number would be. They're usually much easier to remember, too, which helps marketers and texters alike.

In the United States and Canada, standard shortcodes are five or six digits long, except for some special exceptions (usually, shorter shortcodes are managed by mobile providers). Shortcodes in the United States are not allowed to start with the number 1.

Shortcodes can be randomly assigned, or, like license plates, companies can select vanity short codes for an extra fee. That's why you might see an easy-to-remember shortcode like "567890" (which was used in AT&T's now expired Where Legends Live Sweepstakes). Some vanity shortcodes are also spelled out as words, such as Walt Disney's DISNEY shortcode.

To text a shortcode consisting of letters, simply look at your phone's keypad and use the numbers that correspond to each letter.

Shortcode Texting in Four Easy Steps

Many companies ask you to text shortcodes to enter text message sweepstakes or receive coupons and special offers. So how do you go about texting to a shortcode?

  1. Navigate to the Text Message Section of Your Phone or Mobile Device
    To get started, navigate to the section of your mobile phone that allows you to send text messages. 

  2. Compose Your Text Message
    Check the sweepstakes' rules to see exactly what you need to text. Often, a single keyword is all you'll need to send. Enter your message.

  1. Send the Text to the Shortcode Number
    After you have composed your text message, navigate to the area where you can enter the phone number to send the text message. Enter the shortcode number and press Send. If the shortcode is given as a word (like DISNEY), use your keypad to figure out which numbers go with which letters.

  2. Unsubscribe From Receiving Unwanted Text Messages
    Many times, sending a text message to a shortcode will automatically opt you in to receive ads from the sponsor. If your mobile phone provider charges you per text message received, you may have to pay for these ads. Usually, texting "STOP" to the same short code will unsubscribe you. If that doesn't work, try texting "HELP" to the short code to see options. If neither works, check the sweepstakes rules or the advertisement that listed the short code for information about how to unsubscribe.

Safety Issues With Shortcodes

One problem with shortcodes is that they can be misused by scammers. If you want to double-check which companies are associated with which shortcodes, visit the US Common Short Codes Who Is Directory. Scammers rarely use registered shortcodes, since registration costs money and is not anonymous.

It's also a good idea to keep in mind that sending text messages may not be free.

Depending on your service plan, there may be a per-text charge, or you may have a limited number of texts that you can send per month. Additionally, some companies may charge you a premium fee for entering sweepstakes by text. Check out standard vs. premium text message charges for more information.