SMS Donations Advertised via Twitter

Published: 2010-01-13
Last Updated: 2010-01-13 16:51:46 UTC
by Johannes Ullrich (Version: 3)
3 comment(s)

[Update] Both short codes in use right now, 501501 and 90999 are tracing back to registered twitter accounts and I consider them authentic at this point. 90999 is associated with the red cross (@redcross), 501501 is associated with Wyclef Jean (@wyclef). Please keep alerting us if you see other short codes being used.


We all like the convenience and speed of SMS messaging. As a result, a number of companies set up services to allow donations to be send via SMS message. The approach is pretty simple. You text a message identifying your cause (e.g. "HAITI") to a special short code configured by the recipient. A "short code" is a 5 or 6 digit number configured to receive your message pretty much like a regular phone number.

These short codes are frequently advertised via twitter in messages like "SMS x to yyyyyy to donate to cause z". One thing that doesn't fit into the twitter message is that the cost of the donation will be billed to your phone bill. Typically $5 or $10. Legitimate providers of this service appear to limit you to one donation per day.

However, there is no easy way for you to identify who you send the money too. I would suggest to be very careful with this form of donation and only to use the number if you receive it from the organization directly. Please avoid sending money "blindly" just because a friend "RT" it.

Two legitimate operators of this service appear to be:

The Red Cross uses a verified twitter account ( @redcross ) for updates.

Here are some of the messages we saw on twitter in connection with the Haiti earthquake:

Text "Yele" to ***** to donate $5 4 HAITI
Text "HAITI" to "*****" & ur donation of $10 will go 2 the Red Cross 2 help w/relief efforts in #Haiti

 (I replaced the SMS number with stars)



Johannes B. Ullrich, Ph.D.
SANS Technology Institute

3 comment(s)


One thing of note about 501501 is that it is a pay service. I believe that a portion of that money goes to the company that runs If you look at @wyclef's page, you can donated directly to the fund via and (it claims) 100% of your funds go directly to Haitian relief.
The RedCross is actively soliciting donations via SMS text messages.

"The Red Cross is also receiving money through a third party mobile fundraising effort sponsored by Mobile Accord. Mobile donors can text “Haiti” to 90999 to send a ten dollar donation to the Red Cross. The funds will go to support the Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti."
Very disappointing, but apparently Wycleff Jean's paid 130k for performing for his own benefit show. Smoking gun has more, very depressing stuff.

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