Help, I’m being gouged for spam text messages

November 25 2009 by Ellen Roseman

Check your cellphone bills for pricey text message charges. Short-code messages, as they’re called, usually have a string of numbers followed by a name like Premium Text Trivia.

I did a column last week and asked readers to send stories. You’ll find a bunch below.

The CBC has done a few television news items lately, here.

You get lured in by doing an online contest, which asks you for your cellphone number. You then receive — by text — a PIN number. Once you enter that PIN number on the website, you’ve subscribed.

Here’s a link to the $12.3 million (U.S.) settlement of a class action by m-Qube Inc., one of the biggest offenders. The lawsuit alleged there were not adequate safeguards in place to ensure that customers were only billed for services they agreed to purchase.

In Canada, the wireless companies insist that it’s not their problem. They blame customers for giving away cellphone numbers without reading the fine print.

But when reading these comments, watch for a pattern. Those who make noise often get refunds or freebies to compensate for the unauthorized text messages.

119 comments

  1. Adolph

    Dec 2 2011

    Two of the Fido cell phones in our home were hit with over $200 in text message charges. Fido refused to reverse the charges.

    After speaking a Fido management person, I found out that premium text messages can be blocked by the cell phone provider, so I asked them to turn that feature on for all of our phones.

    The company sending the premium text messages was based in the US and at first only offered a partial refund. I then mentioned that I could file a complaint with the FTC (they have more power and make more effort to help consumers than our disgusting CRTC).

    The end result: a full refund. I have also contacted my MP and sent a complaint to the CRTC to push for more control over these services.

    One phone has been moved from Fido to another cell company and I expect to move the rest of our phones as soon as the contracts are up.

    Fido, you have lost our business because you did not care about us as valued customers.

  2. David

    Dec 6 2011

    You people need to start reading the fine print before simpy submitting your phone number to a random website.

    Ask yourself why an IQ test would require your cell phone number specifically. Stop blaming your carrier and take responsibility.

    We didn’t have these kinds of issues when i was in high school because we did not give cell phones to children.

  3. Jer

    Dec 21 2011

    I have a problem with a cellphone service right now! I texted it once, now it won’t stop!

    I texted STOP and I get a message back saying ‘U’ve been unsubscribed from all services, no further messages will be sent.’ Yet, even though I texted STOP, I keep getting them!

    Argh, I really hate a company that does this kind of thing…

  4. Leo

    Jan 10 2012

    About 7 days after I signed my cell phone contract with Bell on Dec 3, 2011, I received a message from 99880 (totaltexts.com). The first message includes both an equiry messags and a reply. In the enquiry message, it says that

    TECH by Total Texs Alerts subscription. $5.month; upto 3 mgs/wk. Reply yes to confirm. Text HELP for help, STOP to end. Help 888 213 2740.

    In the above text below, a message to simulate my reply saying: Yes which is a made-up (fake).

    I called Bell and as many people said above, Bell thinks it is a legitimate charge. I asked why Bell not stop to allows the thirday party to charge their cell phone users, the agent instisted Bell should.

    I tried to call the TotalTexts with the number given on the web site, but the number does not work.

    The bill this month states that Bell transferred a $5 charge of subscription fee from Total Texts to my account pluse both receiving and replying fees.

    Why Bell and other mobile companies love to transfer these charges to their users? Do Bell and other companies collect comission from these text message companies?

  5. Concerned

    Feb 4 2012

    It seems the telecommunications companies, specifically the Mobile Service Providers, refuse to accept any blame for third party billing without the user’s consent. This must change.

    They cannot offer a phone service without taking precautions on behalf of their customers.

    Even their own Internet Service Provider divisions offer free security services for download, in order to protect customers from viruses, spyware and to prevent online hacking. These services are offered free of charge by our ISPs, as well as warnings and automatic blocks on sites that are known to be fraudulent.

    This shows they are proactively protecting customers, even though third parties are responsible for viruses, spyware and hacking.

    Could not our MSPs do the same thing with text scams? I think they need to take a page form their ISP department as it pertains to security for customers.

    It would seem even more the telecom’s responsibility, in this case, to protect their mobile customers due to the fact that the money is being taken from the telecom’s customer account.

    It is a bad business model to allow a third party to dip into any telecom customer’s account before the telecom verifies it with their customer first.

    TotalTexts.com had charged $5 to my Telus prepaid account for a monthly subscription text service, giving hints and tips for using Android. I never heard of such a service and most certainly would not have agreed to their subscription. I do not need help using my Android phone… thank you very much!

    I had downloaded a battery saving app from an ad that appeared at the bottom of my phone. It read “Battery Update”.

    This is a deceptive tactic, considering that it is not an update for your battery, but an app that claims to lower battery usage, lengthening battery life.

    Before I was able to read the description, a pop-up appeared telling me that I needed to install the update before I could continue. I did so and found that I had received a text saying I was subscribed to a service for XX amount of dollars. I quickly texted “stop” to 99880. I then uninstalled the app in disgust of their sneaky and illegal tactics.

    I called Telus and complained. They reimbursed me, putting $5 back into my account, and unsubscribed me to the “total texts” alerts.

    When I checked my texts on my phone, I discovered that Telus had also unsubscribed me to another text service I did not know I was subscribed to, 466453 from Google, which may have charged me this $5 amount.

    I really do not know how I got a subscription with Google or how it was charging me $5. As with Total texts, I never agreed to the subscription, nor did I even know that subscriptions to their services were available.

    What service was this from Google? Why would I want this service and why would I want to pay $5 extra a month if I chose a pay as you go account? If I wanted a subscription service from my mobile carrier, I would have accepted their offer.

    I find it surprising that no one in authority has taken this issue to court in order to prevent these phishers and scammers who outright steal your money from doing so.

    I find it shocking that the telecoms sidestep responsibility and tell us they are not liable when they are liable. The telecoms are legally liable for all transactions involving accounts within their systems.

    The telecoms have the moral and absolute legal obligation to protect and advise their clients. They are in a better position to launch lawsuits on our behalf, being that they are large bodies with legal departments.

    They also need to stop taking commissions from each fraudulent sale of offending third parties, thus removing the conflict of interest within the current, easily abused monetary construct.

    Who else but the telecoms should take responsibility? The customer is being victimized and ripped off. Theft is illegal. Should we call the police? Our Member of Parliament? The Better Business Bureau?

    Contacting the offending third party ourselves is exactly the same as the police telling us to catch the burglar ourselves, taking the law into our own hands when we know we should not have to.

    We do not have the skills to make these third parties comply with standards. All the third party will tell us is we agreed to the subscription when we did not, degenerating to an our word against theirs mentality.

    There is electronic evidence to support our claims that we are being victimized by thieves who need to go to jail and pay back what they are stealing.

    Allowing third party billing is a great idea. It allows the customer more choice in a free market environment. All we ask is that there be a conformation request sent to us from our mobility provider with all relevant billing information and what to do to get rid of unwanted subscriptions, whenever a third party decides they want to take money out of our accounts.

    If the money is blocked, the subscription should be cancelled like any other service would be. If these scamming third parties have no access to our money, they will no longer be able to continue victimizing us.

  6. Donna

    Feb 24 2012

    I too had these third party messages on the phone. I can assure that Rogers was absolutely no help at all, only added to the frustration.

    Now after reading many articles, I sent my complaint to the CCTS. They were excellent, got back to me the same day, opened a file, and wow, Rogers called within 2 days.

    Rogers will be crediting my account, but I also got a cheque today from the third party. I will be sending that cheque back, fair is fair.

    So, contact the CCTS with these issues.

  7. Brad

    May 2 2012

    How is that a company can bill you for a service you cannot use?

    I was looking for ringtones for my iphone, and Motime sold me some. Unbeknown to me, I was signed up for $10 a month. Their ringtones aren’t compatible either.

    How can our carriers not have something in place to remove these fraudulent companies from their (our) system?

    Telus has poor business practices. They will take you to court to back the small print on something that they are making huge dollars on from many, many other ‘clients’.

    I am counting the days until my contract period is up.

  8. Janis

    Jul 6 2012

    I had two $13 charges on my Rogers bill from Motime. It took me 4 phone calls with 4 different Rogers customer service reps, 1 lengthy LiveChat with another customer service rep, 2 letters to the Office of the President (Step 3 of their complaint system), and finally, one phone call with the Office of the President. In the end, they agreed to reverse the charge.

    Here is my final letter to the Office of the President, for those who are interested in trying their luck at getting the charges reversed:

    I have been charged by a third party, Motime, on my Rogers wireless account for a service to which I *absolutely* did not subscribe ($13 in May and $13 in June, 2012). As instructed by Rogers, I contacted Motime to request a refund. Motime offered to mail me a cheque if I provided them with my name, home address and email address. I am unwilling to provide my personal contact information to company that has unscrupulously enrolled me in services without my consent. I don’t want them to have any further information about me because I cannot be guaranteed that they won’t use it for further illegal practices.

    Motime Canada states on their website: “Our registration and subscription process complies with the Mobile Marketing Association’s best practices (http://www.mmaglobal.com/bestpractices.pdf) and the messaging requirements of your wireless carrier. To become a Registered User or Subscriber you must give us a verifiable wireless device number. We send a personal identification number (“PIN”) back to that device and you must either use the PIN with that device to respond, enter the PIN on our Website or follow our instructions for authentication. In some cases, you can create a life account and become a Registered User through your wireless device by sending an SMS or MMS message. Initially and at times later on, we will require you to authenticate your registration or subscription as part of our normal security and verification procedures. We refer to this as the “Authentication Process.” All Users must have a user name and password. If you use your wireless device to register, we will give you with an initial log-in password. If you register on our Website, you can usually select your own password. “

    It is clear that Motime Canada is *not* engaging in the “Authentication Process” as they claim. I never received any PIN, username, password or any other message authenticating my supposed request for a “subscription.” If this had happened, I would have been able to notify them and you that I had never requested a subscription and that this subscription was fraudulent.

    It is clear to me that Rogers has partnered with a business that is engaging in fraudulent business practices and that Rogers is aiding and abetting these crimes by collecting unauthorized fees on Motime’s behalf. Rogers has a responsibility to only collect third party charges that are legal. Therefore, I hold Rogers accountable for the unauthorized charges and expect you to reimburse me the full amount of $26.

    I would also like to complain that I first began my complaint about this matter one week ago, and suffered through four phone calls with Rogers CS reps before being directed to submit a complaint to the Office of the President, which I did. After failing to receive a reply in the 48 hour timeframe, I had to go through yet another lengthy discussion with Amy on LiveChat, only to be told that my previous interaction IDs weren’t with the “right” department and this was why I had not received a reply from the Office of the President. This is now my second written complaint to your office. I expect that you will reply within 48 business hours this time.

  9. Vdst

    Sep 27 2012

    To cancel motime text STOP to 63232.

    The response is …”your subscription has been canceled”.

    Hope this helps peoples.

  10. Daniel

    Nov 2 2012

    I got charged $13 by Motime on my Rogers bill just because I click one ad. I didn’t input anything, but I found I was logged in.

    I immediately cancelled and logged out, but they still charged me $13. I called Motime and Rogers, but they said they couldn’t refund me.

    I think this is a scam and we should stop this kind of 3rd party billing.

  11. Aamir

    Dec 8 2012

    SOLUTION FOR SKILL2THRILL problem.
    This skill2thrill company is stealing money from many people across various countries. In saudi arabia, they steal 5 Riyals from STC and 12 Riyals from Mobily and Zain (I think).

    To get rid of this problem on STC, do these steps:

    send all to 805218. This will tell u the number of subscriptions you have with a message like this:

    Welcome to Test

    Your subscriptions are:

    Service: content
    ChannelID: 6

    To cancel your subscription, send U followed by a space and then the channel ID to 805218.

    DO NOT LEAVE THIS UNTIL U GET THE FOLLOWING MSG:

    You have been successfully unsubscribed from service content.

    and to check again if this curse is still following you, send again U 6 to 805218 and you must get this msg:

    Dear customer, you have no subscription to any service.

    Till now I have done this BUT haven’t tested if this problem is fully resolved!!!

    MAY ALLAH CURSE THESE PEOPLE WHO DO SUCH THINGS TO HARM OTHERS.

    If you find it useful, do pray for me,

    Aamir

  12. Michael L.

    May 3 2013

    RE: commenter Ann Hustis

    Dear Ann,

    Although some time has passed since this article was published, we feel it is important to address your mention of PlayPhone.

    First, we apologize if you experienced dissatisfaction with PlayPhone in the past. PlayPhone has not offered the services referenced – ringtone, wallpaper, graphics, etc. – for several years now.

    PlayPhone’s policies both today and at the time of this post comply with The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA).

    With regards to Rogers Communications, PlayPhone has no legal control or obligation over charges, fees, and pricing plans of individual mobile carriers.

    PlayPhone’s Social Gaming Network (PSGN) is a state-of-the-art cross-platform mobile social gaming network, used by millions worldwide, that operates on a subscription model that can be cancelled at any time. We invite readers of this blog to visit http://www.playphone.com/ and contact us directly with any additional questions.

    With kind regards,
    Michael L.
    PlayPhone Inc.

  13. Herald Jones

    Jun 12 2013

    Telus / Rogers / Bell in Canada, all charge for incoming text messages.

    This is a huge pain in the ass, because cell phone SPAM is very common now.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if these major cell phone providers are sending you spam, hoping you’ll buy a monthly text message plan.

    I am so sick and tired of cell phone providers gouging customers.

  14. Sarah

    Aug 7 2013

    This SCAM is still going on .

    you just click on an ad and viola you are subscribed all of a sudden .

    no pin required , no confirmation required ..nothing and these ridiculous charges.

    I can just enter someone else’s number on these stupid IQ , Games websites and that someone else will start receiving these premium text messages and charges .