How To Avoid Mobile Phone Rip-Offs

Sick of getting ripped off by Premium SMS services? A few tips on how to avoid falling into the trap…

by Mike Wheeler

About three years ago my wife saw an advertisement on the television about a new game where you text the answer and you could be in to win a prize. Sounds like fun, she thought. The reply only cost $0.25 for the text, and while she wasn’t naïve enough to expect to win, the outcome was something she couldn’t have thought possible.

Over the ensuing weeks she would receive one or two of these texts from the same company, but stopped answering them after a while because she found them annoying and she had better things to do.

At the time, her mobile plan was prepay, and soon after entering this competition she noticed that her prepay plan was running out much quicker than it had in previous months. Perplexed, she called her provider (in this case Vodafone) and asked how she could be going through her credit so quickly. A check by the Vodafone customer services person showed that she was being debited the best part of $3 for every text she received. Huh? Unbeknown to my wife, there was a little set of terms and conditions at the bottom of the television screen stating that if she replied to the initial text she was now signing up to a premium service and that she would receive two texts a day – and thus her account was debited.*

We range the Premium service provider who was in no way apologetic in what had happened to us, but due to the huge amounts of complaints and bad publicity it was receiving, agreed to reimburse my wife by $20 and we unsubscribed to the service.
So how do you avoid these kinds of rip-offs? Well there are several ways, not least of which the government, via the telcos, will be coming to the party this July.

* After hanging up we found that the ads were still running on the television so I taped one, and for the life of me couldn’t read the terms and conditions because the type was too small. Even if the type wasn’t illegible, it would have been impossible to read all of the terms and conditions in the given time because the ad only lasted 30 seconds.

Go to page two to see how you can avoid mobile phone rip-offs:

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1. Don’t Enter Competitions
This is so obvious, that it hardly needs saying, but people do it every day and pay dearly for the privilege. Be aware that while a rare few of these Premium SMS provider do in fact offer prizes, they rely on a stream of people replying to the ad and charge huge chunks out of their monthly mobile bill.

2. Don’t Fall For The Prize
Most of these competitions offer great prizes that you think are too good to be true. They are! So even if the bills are piling up, and you’re really hanging out for a change of luck, a Premium SMS comp isn’t going to make things better.

3. Check Terms and Conditions
For all the subtefuge – perceived or real – most of the terms and conditions do outline your responsibilities; ie, if you sign up and get stung for $3 or $4 a pop via a SMS you can’t say “I didn’t know,” because it’s there in black and white. However, some of these comps do have dodgy Terms and Conditions and can be incomplete, so it pays to read them thoroughly if you get stung.

4. Federal Government Comes to the Rescue
Unbelievable as it may sound – the government really is there to help! Well, the Australian Communications and Media Authority is, which is the fed government’s watchdog for such services. From July this year, you can tell your mobile phone carrier to bar any unwanted text messages from Premium Services providers and they have to comply.



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