Guest Author - Kathy Fleming
An increasingly disturbing trend has emerged with cell phone use, and that is customers receiving bills for services they never ordered. Finding out how the service was subscribed to and receiving credit for unwanted charges can take months – or never happen. Service providers can be stuck in-between because the bills are from third-party vendors. In many cases, class-action law suits have become the only way to solve the problem – and to bring attention to an increasing problem.
Spam text messages to cell phones are more disturbing and frustrating than e-mail spam and old-fashioned snail-mail junk, because unlike those unwanted materials, which can be deleted or thrown away, text messages cost the costumer money. Some customers are charged a per-text charge, while others subscribe to media or text packages which allow for a certain number of text messages per month. Even these customers may be upset because they are still paying for a service that is being affected by unwanted messages.
One of the popular ways companies subscribe you to unwanted services is by enticing you (directed particularly at younger cell users) to text a number to receive “free” content, such as ringtones, wall paper, jokes and horoscopes. But by accepting the content, you may be unknowingly agreeing to a fee-charging service.
Unfortunately, cell phone companies are not always helpful in dealing with customer complaints about unwanted services. In some cases it is hard to track down how the whole situation got started. However, it should also be noted that the cell phone companies are making money off these scammers themselves, so they are not motivated to track down scammers or credit accounts. But other providers are trying to nip the problem in the bud, not wanting to lose customers, and have taken a number of actions against spam, including litigation.
What is Being Done About It?
Consumer advocacy organizations have begun lobbying for truth-in-billing legislation, and while this may be a slow process, it is gradually paying off with some legislative proposal in several states. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the AARP, along with other organizations, have made progress towards making bills easier to understand. And many class-action law suits have emerged to help get their money back and raise awareness of this increasing problem.
The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), an industry trade group consisting of cell carriers and their marketing partners, has developed strict guidelines for text messaging advertisements. For example, they employ a doubt opt-in requirement. Here, if you respond to an advertisement for cell content and send a text code to receive it, you will not be sent that content until you respond to a confirmation message. Cell marketers must now agree to abide by the MMA guidelines to gain access to carriers’ customer.
There is definite motivation for cell carriers and marketers to abide by these rules. If they can demonstrate they are successful at self-governing, they are less likely to end up with government legislation providing guidelines for them.
What You Can Do
Check your bill every month and make sure you understand your charges. If you see anything you’d like to dispute, do so immediately.
On a related note, some service providers add on a roadside assistance charge to customers. If you don’t want this charge, have them remove it. Fortunately, this is usually an easy process that providers are quick to change for you.
Be careful what kind of cell-related marketing you respond to, and always read the small print. Sometimes this is nearly impossible on TV ads where the small print is very small and not on the screen long enough to read it. Encourage family members, particularly teens, not to respond to offers for “free” ringtones and the like. If you are a business owner, IT or telecom manager, make sure your employees with company cell phones are also aware of spam issues.
If you check your bills careful and respond to anything unwanted or mysterious, you will not only help yourself from being another victim of cell scams