A random, unsolicited text appears on your phone. What do you do?
If you are like most people, you will growl with annoyance at what appears to be spam and then delete it, assuming that is the end of the matter. Well, that is possibly a mistake as you might unwittingly have paid that spammer £3 just for receiving the text and by deleting it you have lost the evidence.
A simple fraud
A colleague in the office got the following text last the week from number 83023.
“Win4Fun!Last months winner grabbed £500!This months questions is Who sang the song Paparazzi?Txt Enter plus you answer 83023 care? 08445796354. Close 13/02.”
She hadn’t subscribed to anything or texted the number before and she definitely didn’t respond. However, after thinking about it she decided to check her mobile account online and saw that she had been charged £3 for receiving that text.
That is wrong. It is illegal and this is what PhonePayPlus, the regulator, was set up to stop. Well yes, in principal, but the system is broken.
Getting the money back
PhonePayPlus encourage you to use their number checker, on their website, which reveals the service provider to be 2ergo Limited. This is the same 2ergo that has 20 previous PhonePayPlus adjudications against services it has provided. However, when she contacted 2ergo they explained they were just the aggregator and she would need to seek recompense from the content provider, Win4Fun… whoever they are.
Meanwhile, a complaint direct to PhonePayPlus solicited a call back. Whilst they were sympathetic to her complaint they explained that they could only investigate if they received 5-10 complaints from the public over any one service. They hadn’t received five complaints so in effect it was, “Terribly sorry but we will be adding to our files and we won’t be investigating further”.
A complaint to Vodafone resulted in an immediate, no quibble refund.
Too much hassle for £3?
The problem is of course that the charge for receiving the text is relatively small and the effort of recovering it so long winded and laborious that most people let it pass. If the rogue content provider is clever, they will have targeted contract-based, mobile phone users who seldom check their bills until the end of the month and by then have often deleted the offending message anyway. Add in the lack of faith that regulator will even investigate, is it any wonder that the public lose faith in premium rate industry?
Too many links in the chain?
Part of the problem is that it is unclear exactly who is policing these services. Vodafone is the network operator who takes the money off the customer. They in turn pass some of it to 2ergo who, as aggregator, have the contract with Win4Fun and deal with payments to them. With three levels in the chain it is all too easy to abdicate responsibility.
We need action
What is needed is for everyone in the chain to adopt a zero tolerance policy to these rogue services and create an environment where it is impossible for them to operate. Until the regulator gets a grip of this problem, acts quickly and bars these rogue services the problem will just go on.
20 previous adjudications against a service provider should be prima facie evidence of poor controls and poor business practices. This in itself should be grounds for investigation of any complaint from the public. My article uses just one example but it could so easily have been another service. In the last 3 months of 2009 PhonePayPlus published adjudications on 21 services and these were just the ones that a full warranted investigation (presumably because they each had 10 complaints or more). 2 Ergo Limited are in many ways the unfortunate carrier of the text in this instance, especially as there are many other aggregators who have way in excess of 20 adjudications involving services supplied by them. However, it highlights the fundamental nature of the problem.
We believe that PhonePayPlus needs to look at adopting a zero tolerance policy. Any complaint should be investigated and any complaint that is upheld should be punished. The fines and other punishment (such as withdrawal of licenses) should be increased so that the industry is forced put its house in order and rogue services find the cost of operating to be prohibitive.