- Customers are still being opted-in to receive premium-rate texts
- Predatory companies send messages until customers take action to stop them
- Debbie Gould received a bill from Vodafone that was £20 higher than usual
Thousands of people pestered with nuisance texts could be paying to receive them by predatory companies charging fees direct to customers’ mobile phone bills.
Despite a regulatory crackdown, customers are still being opted-in to receive premium-rate texts – about lotteries, competitions or even X-rated adult content – without their knowledge or consent.
John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire and member of the Treasury Select Committee, has voiced concern on this issue and says the regulator needs to do more.
Targeted: Debbie Gould was refunded fees after questioning her bill
On Friday, he told The Mail on Sunday: ‘These texts are a national scandal, impacting young and old alike. The regulator needs to act.’
Mobile phone users can pay for goods and services by allowing their network provider to add the charges to their bills – known formally as ‘phone-paid’ services.
But many are unwittingly signed-up to services they do not want.
A company flouting the rules might construe a few wrong clicks by people browsing on its website as consent to pay for receiving texts. For others, mobile alerts arrive out of the blue, with some complaining of being sent X-rated adult content.
At least one customer reports feeling ‘violated’ by the intrusion in a study of consumer complaints published earlier in the year.
Unscrupulous companies send messages until customers take action to stop them, usually after receiving a higher than expected phone bill. Those who complain to their mobile network provider are often told they must have forgotten they signed up or should have read the small print.
Fury: MP John Mann wants action
Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at comparison website uSwitch, says: ‘Being charged for texts and calls that you did not want or sign up for is unfair.
‘Texts from these numbers typically cost around £1.50 each, which means the cost of your phone bill can mount up if you are not quick to spot them.’
A growing market
Charging for goods and services via a customer’s mobile phone bill is an increasingly popular way for companies to generate revenue.
This is largely thanks to its convenience, since a customer does not need to bother with debit or credit cards to make a payment. The market for phone-paid services has grown by nearly £31million in the past year, to more than £708million in 2017.
It is also a good way for charities to pull in much-needed donations. This makes up the lion’s share of the market.
People need only send a text to a ‘shortcode’ number displayed in an advert or on TV and the sum is added to their monthly phone bill.
But scam and rogue companies which adopt this payment method trap customers without gaining their consent or deliberately conceal prices and contract terms.
As a result, there are an estimated two million complaints a year about phone-paid services. Among these are gripes about text alert services charging per message – a market from which mobile networks too can turn a profit.
When the charges are minor, they go unnoticed. Mann adds: ‘Criminals are deliberately undertaking small thefts to minimise anyone kicking up a fuss.’
Debbie Gould received a bill from Vodafone that was £20 higher than usual as a result of premium rate texts and calls.
When she contacted Vodafone she was refunded and a bar was put on her number to prevent it happening again.
Debbie, from Godalming, Surrey, says: ‘I did not sign any contract for anyone to charge me. It was only because I questioned my bill that it was dealt with. How can I be sure I have not paid hundreds of pounds over the years to these companies without even knowing?’
‘Unacceptable’: Derek Knowles complained to his phone network
Derek Knowles was charged for 11 nuisance text messages to his mobile phone last month. These revealed the latest winning numbers for The National Lottery, at a rate of 12p a time. This information can easily be found online for free.
Though the charges were only small, Derek – a 74-year-old TV and film extra from Urmston, Greater Manchester – is meticulous about checking his bills and spotted them.
He says: ‘It is unacceptable. To receive unsolicited text messages and then be charged for them is sharp practice.’
When he contacted his mobile phone provider EE to complain, he was refunded and his number blocked from receiving any further premium rate texts.
The Mail on Sunday asked EE for an explanation. It maintains Derek signed up to two text message services via the EE App Store – something he vehemently denies.
A spokesman adds: ‘Unfortunately, due to a unique system error, Mr Knowles did not receive a follow-up welcome message to confirm his subscriptions and explain how to opt out.
‘We always recommend customers keep a close eye on their bills.’
Derek branded the network’s explanation ‘pathetic’.
Thumbs down: Charging for goods and services via a customer’s mobile phone bill is an increasingly popular way for companies to generate revenue
The Phone-paid Services Authority governs companies that charge services to customers’ mobile phone bills. Until last year it was known as PhonepayPlus.
The authority says it has tried to prevent customers unknowingly being signed up to premium rate text services, particularly in relation to online competitions and ‘adult services’. It has seen a reduction in complaints as a result.
Its Code Adjudication Tribunal hears cases against companies thought to be in breach of its code of practice – including those providing call-based services as well as texts.
In the past financial year it levied fines in excess of £5million and banned seven companies or individuals from the market.
A spokesman said: ‘Under our code consumers must not be charged for phone-paid services without their consent.’
HOW TO BEAT THE SCOURGE OF NUISANCE MESSAGES
- Scrutinise mobile phone bills with care in case you have been charged for premium rate texts you did not want or ask for.
- Contact your mobile phone provider to find out the source of any premium rate texts. If you did not sign up to the service ask for a refund.
- Ask your provider to apply a bar on your phone that blocks premium rate numbers.
- Forward spam texts to your provider. All networks use ‘7726’, which spells out ‘spam’ on a handset’s keypad. It is free.
- Be wary of online companies asking for your phone number.
- Look for details of any additional charges applied by a smartphone app you use – it might be free to download but could come with a paid-for subscription.
- Reply to a text charging for a ‘service’ with the words ‘STOP ALL’ – but only if you are sure the company is legitimate. If you suspect it is a scam, do not reply as it tells the criminals the number is in use. They will use this information to try to charge you again.
- Check the provider of a service using the Phone-paid Services Authority’s online number checker at psauthority.org.uk/about-us/number-checker.
- Complain about any services you have been roped into receiving without consent by visiting the regulator’s website at psauthority.org.uk or by calling 0300 3030020 during office hours. It may help resolve your complaint or build a case against a company thought to be breaking the rules.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online