Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Arghhh! When Fine Print Attacks

Today I spent an infuriating hour on the phone trying to recover over $100 from two cases of fine-printitis. The first one came about when I checked my mobile phone bill email. Rather than the usual $28 monthly fee for DW and my mobile phones, the February bill was over $60. I quickly scanned through the items and found that there was $40.50 charged for 9 'premium' SMS messages to DW's mobile number. I called customer service to complain about this charge, thinking it must be a billing error since we never use SMS, let alone "premium" SMS, whatever that is.

The CSR didn't help much, simply telling me that the premium SMS service was from a third party, so they couldn't cancel the charges. She suggested I call the 'help' number listed against the SMS items. When I called the 'help' number I simply got a recorded message prompting me to enter the mobile phone number in question. Since I didn't think we had signed up for this service in the first place I didn't want to enter our mobile number in case it just triggered an avalanche of other spam SMS messaging.

After searching the internet for the 'premium' SMS number in question, I found a forum thread containing numerous examples of people who had similar problems with unwanted SMS messaging services being billed to their phone account. I did find a different customer service number for the SMS messaging service, but a call to that number also just got a recorded message (after waiting on hold for 10 minutes for 'the next available operator').

Having wasted half an hour trying to contact the SMS provider, I called back my mobile phone service to complain (and threaten to call consumer affairs). This prompted my mobile phone service to call the SMS company themselves, and soon after a got a conference call back from both the mobile phone and SMS CSRs. It turned out that DW may have provided her mobile phone number on 30 Jan when she signed up for a "Free" $2,000 prize draw on the internet. The mobile phone number was required to SMS her a 'confirmation PIN number' for the contest - but DW didn't read the fine print that by entering the "free" competition she was also signing up for a $4.50 per message SMS service! She'd been getting (and ignoring) the SMS messages that had been coming every second day, thinking that they were just spam!

The conference call wound up with the SMS company asking my mobile phone company to email them requesting a transcript of the internet log showing when we subscribed for the premium SMS service. My mobile phone service will then forward the email to me.

I suspect that we'll end up having to pay the $50 or so in SMS charges accumulated before the SMS 'subscription' was cancelled today. I asked my mobile phone company to block the SMS facility on our account, and I may write to consumer affairs to complain about this scam.

The second case of costly fine print came later in the day when I received a call from NetTab (an online betting service) regarding the 'forgotten password' request I emailed on Monday. I had signed up for online betting way back in 2002 in order to bet a few dollars on the Melbourne Cup race, putting $50 into the account. After the initial wager I hadn't been able to log in to the account and had received a letter saying that the account wasn't 'active' until I provided identification at one of the TAB outlets. Since I'm not a regular gambler I put off visiting a TAB office with my paperwork for several years until another Melbourne Cup Day was approaching. When I finally had my identification confirmed, I was told not to go online and activate the account until I wanted to place a bet, as otherwise I start being charged a monthly fee.

When I got the call from NetTab today, I was informed that my account had been closed in 2007, after my $50 had been totally consumed by a monthly $5.50 "inactive account" management fee! I think it is absurd to be charged a monthly fee for not using an account that I didn't have access to until my ID had been provided, and I also don't recall reading anything about this fee when I originally joinged in 2002. In the end I talked to a supervisor who promised to try to locate a copy of the Terms and Conditions that were in effect when I joined online in 2002, and mail them to me. I doubt that I'll get my $50 refunded, but I suspect that the customer service call cost NetTab more than $50, which is some small compensation.

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1 comment:

Kate said...

This happened to me too. I suddenly discovered that my mobile phone credit kept running out even though i had hardly used my phone. It turned out that i had acidetly subscribed to a service that sent me messages (again which i ignored) that were costing me 33 a time.

I was lucky, it was easily to unsubscribe. But the warning here is to always keep an eye on your bills etc otherwise you could loose a lot of money without even noticing.