back to article Watchdog bares teeth at mobile premium rate scams

Dodgy premium rate mobile services are to face a probe by PhonepayPlus, after the watchdog this year saw a big increase in the number of complaints it receives and the fines it slaps on operators. PhonepayPlus received more than 4,500 complaints about ringtones, games, competitions and other premium mobile services in the …

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  1. dervheid
    Thumb Down

    Watchdog bares teeth?

    Those'll be the 'joke' chattering ones then!

  2. John Johnson
    Paris Hilton

    Where do the fines go?

    This has always puzzled me. As an organisation I figure their overheads cant be that high, so where do the surpluses from these fines end up? Do they ever make their way back to the complainants?

    Paris because she doesnt know either.

  3. Mat
    Thumb Down

    As seen from the Phorm debacle

    OFCOM are a complete and utter waste of time - I'm sure Icstis mk II are quaking in their collective boots!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unsolicited reverse charge SMS...

    One case which hasn't been highlighted enough is unsolicited reverse charge SMS. A dodgy firm can send anyone a text message and you get charged for it. On pay as you go you might not even realise.

    They can then say you must have signed up somewhere on some web site or via text and you'd have a hard job proving otherwise. The network doesn't want to know, claiming this can't happen and say it's down to the provider... effectively beg the crooks to give you your money back.

    Some people threaten legal action and have some success but for the amounts involved many more don't bother, which is what they intend.

    A solution is to allow people to opt out of reverse charge SMS. Better still make it so they have to opt in. The networks make far too much money out of these so they wont do it. The one UK exception being T-mobile who don't exactly go out of their way to advertise it (you have to ask CS) and even deny it is possible on their website.

  5. Wize
    Stop

    The problem with premium rate messages...

    Premium rate messages can be sent to you even if you don't request them. Someone can put your number into one of their web forms and that is enough of an agreement to charge you.

    This seems total nonsense to me. Name one other private company that can legally charge you for something you didn't request or want in the first place.

    And you can't block anyone from sending you this stuff. The only way to prevent someone sending you a premium rate message (and charging you for it) is to get your provider to block ALL messages to your phone, including your friends.

    The whole system is messed up.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Go

    The fines are too small and don't solve the problem.

    What's needed is for all such payments to be held in limbo for at least a month after the event, and if somebody successfully disputes a transaction the culprit forfeits the whole month and EVERYBODY gets back what they were billed, regardless of whether they raised a dispute.

  7. alex dekker

    re: Where do the fines go?

    John, you're assuming that fines that they levy actually get collected.

  8. Mickey Porkpies

    Watchdog Bares Teeth

    Industry bares arse!

  9. Joe
    Alert

    This year...

    ...perhaps they'll re-name themselves to something even more ridiculous?

    SuperPhoneMegaGreat, for example.

  10. andy gibson

    tax on the stupid

    What kind of people actually buy ringtones, wallapapers or vote on Chav Factor? A fool and their money.......

  11. Fluffykins

    Simple - so long as you're a simple user

    I don't use any services that indulge in reverse SMS billing, so it's simply a matter of calling your provider and asking for incoming reverse bill SMS to be blocked.

    Just done it.

  12. John A Thomson
    Thumb Down

    Just complained to Ofcom and PhonePayPlus

    I just raised a complaint yesterday with Ofcom and PhonePayPlus about a charge for a text that was sent to my T-mobile Web'n'walk datacard account! WTF!

    Ofcom tried to wriggle out of it at first, but I pointed out the issue wasn't the £1.50 premium text, it was in fact the issue that the phone system allows this kind of abuse. Their CS representative did take down my complaint and entered it into their system.

    PhonePayPlus and T-Mobile were incredibly helpful and supplied enough information for me to chase the "Text Provider", who checked their systems and said it was a glitch that had somehow seen my number appearing in their "spamming" database, but they had no associated account in the customer database. A refund cheque was sent out for the spam text, but this doesn't make up for the 60 minutes of my time on the telephone and the call costs to get to that point!

    I've had a mobile phone for 20+ years without anything like this happening, then in the last 3 months I've had two such incidents with these unsolicited premium rate spam texts being sent to me. The next time it happens I'm going to pursue the company for all my costs and time by invoice first off and then in the courts!

    This scam must be fixed NOW. The mobile phone network shouldn't allow these messages to be sent unless you have initiated the subscription on your handset. They should even ask for a pin or password to complete the signup transaction.

  13. David Hicks
    Thumb Down

    System is broken

    If someone charges money to my credit card, I phone them and they refund it. it is then up to the charging entity to prove I really did engage in that transaction.

    Why, on a mobile which lets you run up bills on credit to be payed at the end of the month) is it suddenly impossible for the network operator to follow the same rules, and further, why can these messages not be blocked?

    I don't believe for a second there's any sound technological reason these messages can't be blocked.

  14. Dean Burrows
    Coat

    I agree...

    ...that the system is messed up...

    perhaps a way of checking to see if the number sending the text is on the recievers phone contacts list? if it aint there the message doesnt get sent?

    but then, the comment that the phone providers gain too much money from it is a valid point...

    Not to mention that I myself am with O2 and they send Me a 'free' mms with 'On this Day' rubbish, I cant ever remember asking for it, but the STOP text is gonna cost me £1.50...

    Stupid stupid stupid...

    Is anyone willing to set up an organisation that ISNT a bunch of sanctimonius twits who will actually get the job done?

    Mine is the coat with the mobile in the pocket...

  15. Simon

    Money down the drain

    Something about fools and money.

    With a little teeny bit of knowledge you can create (Or find free ones on the web) ringtones and wallpapers etc and upload them (Bloo toof, IR, USB cable) onto your phone for free, hey i'm sure everyone here reading El Reg knows how to do it.

    I have been doing it for years and I even figured out how to convert DVD films to fit on a mobile phone (I recently impressed the independent phone shop I use with this knowledge and sent them a DVD with lots of 3gp films to try). Stick a few dozen episodes of the Simpsons or Family guy on your phone and its perfect.

    Well i guess premium rate scams will always be attractive to less tech-savy people.

  16. Mike
    Stop

    @Dean Burrows

    Report O2 to OFCOM. It's "illegal" (i.e. against OFCOM rules) to charge for STOP messages.

    Mention the possibility of having their service "Red Carded" and O2 willl bend over pretty quick.

  17. Wize
    Thumb Up

    @ Fluffykins

    "I don't use any services that indulge in reverse SMS billing, so it's simply a matter of calling your provider and asking for incoming reverse bill SMS to be blocked."

    What network are you on?

    Tried it once with T-mobile and was told the only way to stop premium SMS is to stop all SMS

  18. Andy Hards
    Unhappy

    @Wize

    As you can see from John A Thompson, they can't do it legally but they do and rely on people not bothering to go though all the time and effort to successfully claim back the £1.50 or so. And it is time and effort as your phone network won't really be interested, they'll say it's between you and the people who charged you. There was one a few weeks ago that was sent out looking like it came from the phone network but wasn't and was claiming to have you logged as 'a inactive-user', (sic) and your account would be suspended if you didn't reply immediately to their text at a charge of £3.50! Half an hour later another text was received saying that 'you must respond immediately to them only'.

    When they do finally fine the scammers they get a fine andare told to make sure they do it properly next time, as though they just turned up to court and said,'oh sorry, we didn't realise what we did was wrong.' and get away with it. Without punitive fines and possible prison terms these people will do it again and again. It is fraud but seen not punished as such.

  19. druck Silver badge

    Regulator or Rogue?

    How many people are now put off from reporting such things because the regulator, formerly ICSTIS and now PhonePayPlus, sounds more like a rogue operator, than the companies they wish to complain about?

  20. Fluffykins

    @Wize

    Being a cheapskate, I'm on Tesco Mobile (O2).

    Very helpful the young lady was, too.

  21. anonymous sms

    the PhonePayPlus scam Fine con

    The trade body for the Mobile Network Operators (GSM) lobbied the Government to be exempt from the financial laws that regulate banks and credit card companies. WHY?

    multi-million pound Scam revenue share:

    Government 17.5% (VAT)

    Mobile Network Operators up to 50% (according to vodafone)

    PhonePayPlus 0.39% (Industry levy/cost of regulation)

    Service provider (Zamano eg) & Content provider (2comm eg) share the rest

    Fines source:

    The Networks/Service providers withhold the revenue from the Content provider for 28 days. The fines are taken from this withheld revenue and under the Communications Act 2003 cannot exceed 10% of the revenue in question.

    Each year the Industry levy is adjusted depending on the 'income' PhonePayPlus collects in the form of fines.

    The Network Operators are billing on behalf of the same companies and these same companies are being 'fined' again and again for the same offences.

    This unathorised (criminal) debiting of peoples phone accounts will not stop unless the Network Operators are subject to the same financial/criminal laws that banks and credit card companies are subject to.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Database error

    I got caught up in one of these scams last month. T-Mobile were incredibly unhelpful, insisting I take it up with the "service" provider. I was charged 10p for my STOP text as well. It took two hours of chasing on the phone and multiple calls to various numbers before I finally got through to a human who blamed a "database error", and sent me a cheque for £1.50.

    It seems these scammers all run very glitch-prone databases!

    I would change operator if I found any that would follow the normal conventions of a credit service and act on behalf of their customers rather than in cahoots with the people who are ripping their customers off.

  23. John A Thomson
    Thumb Down

    Report the scams to PhonePayPlus

    I know we feel that reporting these incidents is a waste of space and time, but if everyone reported it to PhonePayPlus, made complaints to OfCom and wrote emails and letters to their MPs then maybe slowly something would change. The regulators can't do much unless they see the true scale of the problem and start to feel overwhelmed by public complaints. It doesn't take long to raise a complaint if you have the details of the text, including the short code.

    Another scandal is the scammers operate 0845 / 0870 customer service numbers and probably earn revenue when you report their scamming to them. Anyway you look at it, they win!

  24. TMS9900
    Thumb Down

    Hmmm...

    Call me cynical, but I wouldn't be surprised if the spammers simply run computer software to generate random phone numbers and literally spew out the spam. They presumably are not charged by their network operators for un-delivered SMS messages, so it doesn't cost them anything to leave a computer spewing out messages to random phone numbers all day, and logging the phone numbers of sucessfully delivered messages into a database. Which they can sell.

    Is it me?

  25. Tania
    Alert

    @ John A Thomson and AC - ME TOO.

    I also had an issue with unsolicited spam and was told by the company involved "future mobile limited" (associated with MyTxt) that I "must have downloaded some WAP content to have signed up" (standard bullsh*t response)

    So I reported them to PhonePayPlus to find out how they REALLY got my number as they are refusing to divulge, sticking to the "must have downloaded Wap content" line

    On PPP's advice and after several calls and emails, Voodoofone finally "agreed" to write to me confirming that I had never downloaded any wap content onto my mobile. Typically, they never bothered so I have to wait for my bill as proof. (that seems to me to be impeding the investigation of an unlawful activity)

    I got a £1.50 postal order from the clowns at future mobile but let's face it; the previous poster is probably right: they are sending out blanket SMS's and hoping that not everyone complains and while they can get away with this, why would they stop?

    John and AC, did you find out who sent the SMS? and have you tried the above route (they are in breech of data privacy rules by not divulging how they got your number and have obtained it unlawfully) and if so, I hope you got more help than I did from Voda.

    p.s whenever I tried to call futuremobile's customer services number, I'd get an answering machine instructing me to e-mail them...YEAH RIGHT!

  26. marsh

    Scam?

    I got a call from a Lesley Barnes She said I had to call them urgently and quote a reference number that they had left. 01236 575196 was the call back number. As the message was so polite and seemed so urgent, I called them back. After waiting for 30 minutes or so, I got an answer from a pleasant young lady. She told me that they are called Lesley Barnes associates and they were only calling to ask for donation pledges to the Labour party in England. People in Scotland are not approached. It's a new strategy that they have imported from America. You pay extra to call them, (75p per minute, even though it's a normal number), and they get a share of the revenue they make from all the calls; you also get a chance to join the Labour party and make a donation pledge, but it has to be over £20, or they cannot proceed, (but they do thank you for the revenue donated by calling them back). In the recording, they should tell you who they are. Depending on the reference Number you are given, they can also send you posters to display and a direct debit form to make the subscription easier, so you don't need to remember every year. If you pledge, you can also enter a free draw to meet the prime Minister in the Houses of Parliament. I believe that it's a scam - she stressed that they never ask for your card details, they are just involved in sending out the forms and then a local party member comes to your house at a later date. (They carry identification which they must show.) I checked with Labour party HQ and it is legitimate. They told me that it's been quite successful in raising funds for the local elections.

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