- Marcus Hardingham paid nearly £50 for unsolicited texts sent to his daughter’s mobile
- He only discovered this when he contacted Three UK to upgrade his handset
- An employee commented on the £3-a-time texts on his daughter Ava’s phone
The Mail on Sunday’s call for tough regulatory action on companies that charge people for receiving unwanted mobile phone texts has received further parliamentary support.
Earlier this month we revealed how thousands of people are unknowingly paying to receive pestering text messages – a practice Labour MP John Mann described as a ‘national scandal’.
Now Rebecca Pow, Conservative MP for Taunton Deane and a member of the all-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, has intervened. She says: ‘It is dismaying how easy it is for customers to find they have inadvertently signed up for messages they do not want, and are then charged for them.
‘It is scandalous there are unscrupulous companies out there deliberately taking advantage of people in this way. It is an area the regulator ought to address.’
Shocked: Marcus Hardingham with daughter Ava, 11, who was charged for unwanted messages
Pow’s comments come as more people have stepped forward to share their experience of being charged to receive text messages they did not want or ask for. Many people disregard texts as spam and hit the ‘delete’ button, without realising they could be paying for them.
YOUNG CAN BE CHARGED
Marcus Hardingham paid nearly £50 for unsolicited texts sent to his daughter’s mobile.
He only discovered this when he contacted mobile phone provider Three UK to upgrade his handset and an employee commented on the £3-a-time texts on his daughter Ava’s phone.
Aged 11, she is adamant she has never subscribed to any phone paid service – indeed the experience has caused her great upset.
Two changes phone firms MUST make now
Firstly, mobile networks and landline providers should make it clear, on the first page of a bill, if a customer has incurred charges for premium rate texts or calls. Customers are told what to do if they see unexpected charges, but people who do not inspect each item on a bill may not notice small sums paid over many months. This remedy is simple and highlights information already on a bill they might otherwise miss.
Secondly, firms providing premium rate services should require subscribers to first send a text confirming they are opting in to receive messages. This is how it works when donating to charity via text – a customer sends a message to a shortcode number, then receives a confirmation text and the donation is added to the bill.
Marcus, 54, says: ‘Ava’s initial reaction was shock and embarrassment, then annoyance, worry and loss of confidence.’
Three directed Marcus to contact the company responsible for sending the messages, which in turn told him he would need to send a copy of Ava’s passport or birth certificate as proof of identity.
Marcus says: ‘I did not want to pass on my daughter’s personal details so I have written off the charges and instead cancelled my daughter’s phone contract.’
A spokeswoman for Three UK says: ‘If any of our customers have concerns about their bill, we encourage them to contact our customer service team by calling 333 from their mobile.
‘There were additional charges on Mr Hardingham’s bill because a subscription had been activated. Three has no control over the costs that third-party providers charge subscribers.’
After The Mail on Sunday intervened, the mobile network agreed to refund the charges as a goodwill gesture.
THE COSTS MOUNT UP
David Jennings says it was ‘sheer luck’ he recently spotted erroneous charges when checking his phone bill following a trip to Japan.
The 62-year-old, from Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands, discovered he was paying around £4.50 a week to be entered into a competition he knew nothing about.
As he pored over past bills, he traced a string of charges back to August last year – and calculates he and wife Lynne have been charged more than £270. These fees would have continued to accumulate had he not stopped them.
David, a business owner, says: ‘The costs mount up and because the amounts are small, unless you are on your game you will not notice them.
‘Every so often we received messages saying we were entered into a competition for £4.50 per week until we sent a ‘Stop’ message – but as we never opted in, we had no idea we had to opt out.’
When David saw he was being charged, he sent a ‘Stop’ message to the number provided, but this had no impact. The Mail on Sunday asked his bill provider Vodafone to investigate. A spokeswoman says: ‘The premium rate text messages originate from third-party companies and not from Vodafone.
‘The contract is between the customer and the third-party provider of the service, so our advice is to contact them to discuss a refund. If this does not resolve the issue, we do everything we can to help individual customers.’
David rejects the idea he had a contract with the company sending the messages since he has never had any dealings with them.
Vodafone agreed to refund £36 of charges covering the past two months and put a bar on David’s phone so he cannot receive further premium rate texts and calls. David adds: ‘There appears to be a legal loophole ordinary people fall through and the big mobile phone companies could not care less.’
NEED FOR REGULATION
There are some two million complaints a year from people unhappy about ‘phone-paid services’, which encompasses all types of goods and services that can be charged to a telephone bill.
But it is not always clear who a customer can turn to when something is amiss.
Mobile networks often direct people to contact the company in question, even when customers claim they have no contract with that particular service provider. Consumer expert James Walker, founder of online complaints service Resolver, says: ‘These paid-for services are crying out for tougher regulation – and an ombudsman that can step in if things go wrong.’
Have you been paying for texts and calls you never asked for? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to tell your story.
Seven key steps to take if you are a victim
1. Save texts as this will help your case when trying to get a refund.
2. Text ‘Stop All’ to the number that sent the messages – but only if you believe it is a real company. Do not reply to a scam message as this tells fraudsters they have been texting a genuine number.
3. Check which company is sending messages or making calls that appear on your bill using the Phone-paid Services Authority’s online ‘number checker’. This is the regulator overseeing services that charge customers’ phone bills. Visit psauthority.org.uk/about-us/number-checker.
4. Demand a refund from your mobile network if you dispute that you signed up to receive the messages. It may refer you to the company responsible for sending them. In any conversation with that company refer to section 2.3.3 of the regulator’s code of practice, stipulating that service providers must have evidence that a customer consented to receive messages. Request the evidence.
5. Refer unresolved complaints to the Phone-paid Services Authority. Complain online at psauthority.org.uk or call 0300 3030020 during office hours. You can also ask complaints service Resolver for help – visit resolver.co.uk.
6. Put a block on your phone. Contact your mobile network provider and ask for them to bar all premium rate calls and texts.
7. Use the small claims court if you have been charged a large sum. Court fees start at £25 using an online form, for claim amounts up to £300. You may have to pay more if the company fights back, resulting in a court hearing. But you can charge interest and you may be able to claim costs back if you win. Visit gov.uk/make-court-claim-for-money to find out more.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online