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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Premium Text Messaging Fraud - 91097 and 654654

I recently bought a Verizon LG env Touch, which I use to compose blog drafts on the subway. I also put my sister on my phone bill as a "family share" plan, saving her about $40/month on her phone bill. I don't use all my minutes anyway.

I don't use text messages. I never understood the attraction. I prefer E-Mail. I only use my cell phone for phone calls and preparing blog drafts. (I'm still annoyed that the notepad feature has a 300 character maximum, but I found a workaround that involves using line numbers on my drafts and a PHP script that parses out the memo.dat file on the phone and sorts by line number.)

My sister does a lot of text messaging. I got her the 250 messages per month plan ($5/month), and she's using less than half. If she goes over, I'll upgrade to the next tier.

On my latest bill, there were two $9.99 charges for "premium text messages". I asked my sister, and she doesn't remember subscribing to them.

I called customer support. The two premium text messages were for 91097 and 654654.

That's another dirty trick. The phone bill doesn't say what the premium text message charges were for. You have to call customer support and ask.

I know how to use Google. A quick search shows that 91097 is a service called "Reveal Your Lover", where someone sends you messages about how to meet women. Other people were complaining that they were subscribed without their knowledge.

I searched for 654654. It's a service called "predicto". Other people were complaining that they were subscribed without their knowledge.

It's obvious that 91097 and 654654 are spammers/scammers. I bet that a lot of people don't carefully read their phone bill. I only noticed because I wanted to check if my sister was going over her 250 text message allowance.

My sister claims that she never signed up for these services. The possibilities are:

  1. This is a total fraud. Someone fraudulently signed up my sister for these services.
  2. A spammer sent my sister a seemingly-genuine text message. My sister replied, not knowing it was a spammer, and subscribed to the service.
My sister isn't that smart, so it's believable that she was tricked by a spammer into replying and subscribing. My sister claims she didn't subscribe to these services. They obviously aren't the sort of thing my sister would be interested in.

This is a problem with cell phones. You can't reply to an E-Mail and then be billed something. If you sent a text message to a certain number, even as a reply, you can be signed up for a service.

I called Verizon Wireless' customer support. The representative was an incompetent dumbf*** who didn't understand that the premium text message was from a spammer. He said some bulls*** about "Verizon Wireless isn't responsible for third-party premium text messaging services."

I did configure my sister's phone to block premium text messages. I don't use text messages. Maybe I should block it on my phone also?

It looks like I'm stuck paying the $19.98 for two spammers. I enabled the block, but it might not take effect until next month, leading to another $19.98 fraudulent charge.

I E-Mailed Verizon Wireless to complain again. Maybe they'll remove the charge. They're a monopoly, so I'm SOL regarding these charges. Even if I drop Verizon Wireless, another vendor is going to be just as monopolistic and abusive.

If I had nothing better to do, and was feeling particularly angry, I'd sue Verizon Wireless in small claims court for $19.98. That would probably be a waste of time. I'd be giving up a couple hundred dollars by taking a day off work. In this manner, the State encourages fraudulent practices, by making it inefficient to pursue small fraud claims.

The two problems are:
  1. Verizon has a State-backed monopoly/oligopoly. They have the monopoly right to use certain frequencies. I can't start my own competing cell phone business.
  2. The State justice monopoly makes it impractical for me to pursue a fraud claim against Verizon Wireless and 91097 and 654654.
There definitely are fraudulent practices in the premium text messaging area. It seems weird that you can text message a certain number, and then your phone is billed.

I enabled "block premium text messaging". I'll see if that works.

The State protects spammers like this from the negative consequences of their fraud. Verizon has a State-backed monopoly. I won't accomplish anything by canceling my service and picking another branch of the State telephone monopoly. All members of the State telephone monopoly/oligopoly support this type of premium text messaging abuse.



This story does have a somewhat happy ending. Verizon Wireless' phone support representative was a total douchebag. I made an E-Mail support request, complaining that 91097 and 654654 are spammers. Verzion Wireless gave me a credit for $19.98. I guess I "won" this round.

However, I still lost. I had to waste time and effort getting the $19.98 charge removed. I'm not reimbursed for the time I wasted due to Verizon Wireless' fraud. Suppose that only 50% or fewer people complain. The only cost is giving me back my $19.98. For the remaining 50%, Verizon Wireless and the spammers get to keep their stolen booty. For this reason, punitive damages are necessary in cases of fraud.

This is an important principle of corrupt State law. "If you steal, it's OK if you give back the stolen property." That is false. Punitive damages are also necessary, as a deterrent against dishonest behavior.

16 comments:

theftthroughinflation said...

"It seems weird that you can text message a certain number, and then your phone is billed"

Fsk, nothing serious. This reminds me of a screen shot of a facebook conversation someone posted on failblog site. Some girl was like "text #XXXXX and 2$ goes to haiti! I just did it 200 times! everyone should help"
Someone pointed out later in the discussion that she was the one who would be billed each time a text went through!
The cell phone is a great way to instantly rob people of money. If everyone feels bad for a certain cause they can easily send a text to contribute!
Its funny how you can make good causes evil by making people feel guilty and provding them with an easy way to pay. If people donate to even a few causes per month they will tag alot onto their bills, plus stupid service fees.

Anonymous said...

>"If you steal, it's OK if you give
>back the stolen property." That is
>false. Punitive damages are also
>necessary, as a deterrent against
>dishonest behavior.

Your readers in the United Kingdom are all too aware of this. Witness all our Members of Parliament paying back dodgy expense claims for duck houses and moat cleaning. This is not even mentioning the flipping of where their main residence is to maximize tax-payer paid mortgage interest contributions!

The legal system is full of rackets. Lawyers can just send off tens to hundreds of letters threatening legal action against little people WITH NO REAL EVIDENCE. To get a lawyer to reply will cost over 1000 GBP, which is co-incidentally what the extortionist is demanding. So you have to pay 1000 GBP whether you contest the claim or give in to it.

Does the Government stop these bozos? No, it doesn't.

These crooks pick grey laws and matters where there can be no evidence proving something has been done and no hard evidence proving something hasn't been done.

Sensible Governments like France or Germany drive these crooks out. But then they take up roost in the UK. Our government sleeps.

cs said...

Verizon charged me $854 for "premium services" of a "third party" who lured my boyfriend's retarded 22 year old son into a chat room on his phone. Because of the boy's condition, I monitor his phone usage on the verizon site every other day on average. There was no indication that he was doing anything out of the ordinary when I checked his voice, messaging, and data usage. Verizon has credited my account with half of these charges but I am not satisfied with a partial credit because I did not authorize this third party and I am the owner of the cell phone plan. Besides they would still get $427 from me! I do not see any obvious warnings about these kinds of charges on the verizon website, and their usage monitoring page doesn't report third party charges that verizon actually puts on my bill. The representaive tried to tell me that I should have heard of this kind of thing on either the TV or in magazines. I do not have a television and I dont read popular magazines. Another representative said that verizon would never assume that the owner of the plan (me) would give the phone to a child (or a retarded adult) even though I had bought a "family plan" which one would assume would be a way to keep track of children when they were away from home. Whoever the "third party" is, verizon is an accomplice in defrauding me through the luring in of my boyfriend's child. Verizon has now placed a block on third party vendors on that phone, so I also have to ask why I was not asked when purchasing the plan if I wanted to allow verizon to bill me for such usage when they have the ability to turn that on or off at their discretion! The whole thing smell like a rat.

MatMax said...

hi, thanks for this blog. I got spammed too, did you finally get your money back? Only by email Verizon? What should I say to Verizon to get my money back except cursing?

FSK said...

I did get a refund via E-Mail support. Phone tech support was useless.

Anonymous said...

I had it happen to me before as well. come to find out in vzw terms and conditions a third party such as these cannot bill you more than $100 per billing cycle. So i got $700 back....still had to pay $100 though. these vendors pry on unsuspecting kids using their phones.

Anonymous said...

i found this while looking for a way to stop this from happening to people. i work at a cell phone company and i am constantly explaining theses charges to people and helping cancel them. but i am looking for a way to stop it from happening it happens to all sorts of people and most don't know where it came from. my daughter typed her cell number in an online quiz boom $9.99 for nothing and if i didn't know how to cancel it i would have been billed that month after month. and no i didn't get any credit for it. almost all of these seem to be scams and someone is making a fortune off it. but it's not your cell phone provider

Anonymous said...

I had a similar problem and after verizon rep said there was nothing I could do I got pissed and emailled the fcc, ca attorney general, kcra 3 news and barbara boxer. I figured nothing would happen. A Verizon executive called me two days later stating the fcc was on their ass about my complaint and they wanted to make me happy and refunded my money. He also said the third party companies that charged me were being reviewed and probably done doing business with verizon.

Kcra 3 called and might run a story on it and barbara boxer emailed me saying she was looking into legislature to make third party companies go through financial institutions for payment instead of verizon which has no fraud prevention obviously. The attorney general has not responded but I feel might do to verizons not acting in good faith with itS costumers.

If you feel you have been scammed by premium text messages please go to fcc website and file informal complaint. Then email your state attorney general, senator, and local news. Maybe if everyone else would we might shut these criminals down for good. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This is a public outrage in case you don't realize the full scope of it. It's defrauding the public by scammers and a breach of trust by cell phone service providers because not one person agreed to be billed for other than the services provided by their service provider such as the voice, text and data packages they signed up for when they bought their cell phone. Only public outcry will stop this betrayal of consumer trust by service providers who have no right to allow these scam companies to bill the victim through them. Service providers would never allow it if they were not gaining from it. So it's all about money and profit to them. If you don't pay your bill due to these fraudulent charges, your service provider will send your bill to a collection agency and your credit will be ruined due to a scam company ripping off millions of people. Any service provider who allows this is obviously guilty of a breach of trust motivated by financial gain and can't be trusted to stop on their own. They didn't have the ethics or integrity as a company to prevent doing it in the first place. Therefore this can only be stopped through the RCMP/FBI and/or government agencies designated to protect consumers.

Anonymous said...

Most premium messaging subscriptions (not single use charges such as $2 to relief funds) require a double opt in. This means that before you can sign up you have to agree to it twice. The first time is when you put your phone number into the website (or ad) about the service. They will then send a text message to the phone number. The second step is to plug the code they just sent you via text into the website once more and hit confirm, submit, etc. They also must legally tell you on the website both times you are there how much the charge is.

So the reason you all are getting these charges is not due to fraudulent companies, but due to you lack of read observation.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Anonymous 3/9/2011,

You must work for one of these companies or a wireless provider. There is no double opt-in for subscription-based services. All it takes is acceptance of a text. See http://www.smswatchdog.com/.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this. my wife just did the 'apply for free wallmart gift card' and put her cell phone number in at guessology.com no credit card, so she thought she was safe. she was getting messages within minutes. the ask for her to reply with /stop or go to a web site and use a pin code.

i called AT&T wireless right away. there was already a $9.99 "food service" charge from some tastyandsomething.com web site. they blocked all such charges - they don't call them "premium text" but some sort of "solicitation messages". and put in for a refund of the 9.99. it was 11pm on tuesday night but i got through right away and they were prompt and curtious. on the attwireless .com web site where i can manage my account i could not find any reference to this sort of "premium text service' that is not a premium text service. they aslo turned o n what they call 'parental controls' so the phones can't download anything without a PIN. my wife speaks only some english so i am pleased i have at&t who took care of all this so well. will research more about how to identify these sort of messages in the future. thanks again.

Anonymous said...

my several text messages were from 53677 and 36765 on at&t. not surf if the carrier matters but googling also reveals these are associated with the guessology.com fraud.

FSK said...

With Verizon, there is an option on the web account management UI to block premium text messaging. I don't know what AT&T does, but presumably there's something similar.

I don't have a text messaging plan on my phone, and I occasionally get spam (costing me $0.10). Maybe I should block regular text messages also?

Scott said...

We are glad to see other people trying to educate users on Premium Text Messaging scams. There are numerous companies out there who make a lot of money off of text message scams. Unfortunately, the general public is mostly unaware.

Here is an article that gives tips to avoid being scammed:

Avoid SMS Scams

Anonymous said...

This seems to be an old thread, but clearly no legislation has been done to prevent these so-called "premium messaging" programs as it is the end of 2012, and I was the sucker. I was looking up mobile coupons for Hobby Lobby during checkout (bad idea) and clicked on a link that clearly stated HOBBY LOBBY MOBILE COUPON. It asked me to enter my phone number to receive the coupon. I just assumed it was Hobby Lobby. Immediately, I received at text that said I had just subscribed to a coupon and fun facts messaging service for $9.99 a month, and to opt out, I had to text back. WTF? If thats not a scam, then please shoot me already. I felt angry and like a sucker all at once. I am going to write to the FCC. These "services" should have to state clearly that this is a CHARGED service in the same box that asks you to enter your mobile #. I have Verizon, btw. And I totally forgot to call Verizon asap...and it got busy, I forgot, and now I'm seeing $9.99 on my bill and now I have a bad taste in my mouth. :( I'm going to block Premium Messaging asap.

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