Are You Getting Charged by a Text Message Scam?
Recently, I started to receive some spam text messages. Then I got a text that was more disconcerting. It said that I signed up for a $9.99-a-month service called Bingoroo, which I never did, and welcomed me to the service. (See also: Living Without a Landline)
I was a bit confused, so I looked up the company name in the text message — it's some text message bingo game. Their website says that you have to text them to subscribe, and I never did. So called AT&T customer service to ask what this is all about.
The AT&T customer service representative was very apologetic and told me that this is a third party company that is using the AT&T direct billing system to sell their content. I asked her how I can get rid of it. She said that this happens often and told me that I have to text STOP to them right away, and if I do get a $9.99 charge on my bill, I should call them back to get rid of the charge. Also, in her system she did see that the subscription is active even though I did not purchase it.
Here is what is really scary — I asked the AT&T employee if any of these SMS content companies could just bill me if they had my phone number, and her answer was yes. Then I asked what would have happened if I hadn't read my text and replied STOP, and her answer was that basically they would keep on charging me through my wireless bill. Essentially, for these text message services, having someone's phone number is as good as having their credit card, especially if the victim is someone who does not even use texting and just ignores the messages.
I asked the representative how I could prevent these schemes, and she told me that there is actually a free-purchase blocker option that I could set up for my lines. However, this option is only available to technical support as part of parental controls, and there is no option on AT&T's website to turn it on. I told her that I would like to set it up for all my lines. This means all automatic purchases through SMS will be blocked, but AT&T will issue me a PIN that can be used in case I want to make any purchases. Also, AT&T will cancel all current subscriptions.
After this ordeal I researched premium SMS scams a bit, and they can come in many forms. There are actually many mobile phone apps that are disguised as games but actually sign people up to these useless services that charge a monthly fee. However, most service providers have an option to block content purchases. Here are a few tips to stop yourself from being a premium SMS scam victim.
- Check your phone bill and content subscriptions, and make sure everything is what you ordered. If you have AT&T, premium subscriptions can be checked on their Manage Mobile Purchases & Downloads page.
- Read your spam texts and text STOP immediately to messages that say you've signed up for something. According to the AT&T customer service representative, this gives the phone company a record when you unsubscribed, so when you contest the charges, you have them on your side.
- Contest any charges for services you did not purchase as soon as you can. I've read some stories that some people have been charged hundreds of dollars over years of being victimized.
- Turn on premium content blocking with your phone company so that purchases through texting can be only made by you with your PIN.
Hopefully in the future I will not have to deal with unauthorized SMS purchases again, but it really bothers me that the phone company knows that this is going on, yet still allows the offending companies to be operating on their network.
What do you think? Have you experienced a premium SMS scam?