Please Stop Sneaky Third-party Mobile Subscriptions

Please Stop Sneaky Third-party Mobile SubscriptionsMy wife and I were shocked when our AT&T bill came this month. We are spending hundreds of dollars for mobile service on two smartphones and a regular mobile phone for a family member. It appeared to us that every month’s bill was a little higher, and we took for granted that the carrier must be sticking it to us due to our contract. Unfortunately, we weren’t paying very close attention to exactly what appeared on our monthly bills. Big mistake.

It turns out, there’s a scam going on and it’s having an impact on customers in a big way. What might appear to be a small increase in your monthly bill could be a third-party company adding a subscription to your service you neither wanted nor asked for. In our case, it was a series of $14.99 and $9.99 charges that extended back for months. We received no text message notification, and the only indication that we had were spammy text messages that came on rare occasion.

It turns out that we were being subscribed to services we never had any intention of using. Across all three of our phone lines, these subscriptions existed in intermittent intervals. We received no application, signed no documents, and we certainly didn’t opt-in to any of these things.

This is a modern-day equivalent to neighborhood mobsters charging you for services you don’t need. If you don’t pay, or recognize that this is going on, you risk losing your phone service. It should be criminal, but it isn’t.

There are some ways to protect yourself from this matter.

Watch Your Bill

It’s easy to automate your billing these days. Bills arrive in the form of email notifications and often we’re too busy to be bothered to check them. We pay in an almost automated fashion each month, taking the price for granted and we rarely ever look at the line items on our actual bill to find out why we’re being charged so much. I’m willing to admit it, but it happens more often than most folks care to admit. I’d be willing to bet the majority of you reading this haven’t really paid much attention to your mobile bill in quite some time.

Here’s the kicker, if you don’t catch these subscription fees early enough, you might be stuck with them. During our two-hour call to AT&T customer service last night, we were informed that only four months worth of charges could be reversed. These charges might have been going on for a year or more, and we never would have known about it if we hadn’t taken a moment to look at our bill last night.

Demand Carrier Policy Change

How many thousands (or millions) of people are being taken by this type of activity every month? After a quick Google search, I found thread after thread on the AT&T forums started by customers upset about the fact that third-party companies can sign you up for subscriptions to services you never use (or ask for). It’s allowed right now by the carrier, and this has to stop.

Why, in a modern age, is it impossible to implement a comprehensive authorization system for mobile subscriptions? A simple Web interface with a checkbox and some form of authentication would be enough, but carriers aren’t even asking for that. They’re giving companies a carte-blanche to do what they want to. Why would the carrier change? It gets a cut of this action.

It’s bad enough that I’m charged more for phone service each month than I do for electricity, water, and car insurance combined. Don’t even get me started on cable service (also provided by the same company). It’s a giant money-making scheme built on a premise that mobile service is a luxury and not a requirement. Times have changed, and mobile phones (a lifesaving tool) shouldn’t be subjected to these high prices, let alone third-party subscription fees.

To me, this is fraud, and I’m tired of it.

Set a Block on Your Service

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can set a block for new subscriptions on most carriers. AT&T allows you to do this at no charge. This enables you to set a pin number that third-party subscription providers must have in order to add their service to your bill.

This should not be optional. It should be implemented to all new phone service contracts upon creation. That aside, it is the best step you can take to avoid future charges.

Request a Refund

It took my wife and I two hours on the phone with AT&T to get a partial refund for these fraudulent charges. We will never see a refund for the full amount (which is into the triple digits), but we were able to get some of the charges reversed and refunded to us. For anyone that has been taken by this scam, you can request this.

Final Thoughts

Extortion is a word that comes to mind when I think about mobile contracts. It’s one of the few things I absolutely despise about how business is done in the mobile industry. Carriers love contracts because it guarantees revenue for a longer period of time. Customers should absolutely despite them because you have no out other than paying exorbitant fees to do so.

Oh, and to anyone that says that carriers do customers a service by offering subsidized phones at a lower price, you couldn’t be more wrong. Consider the amount of money you’re paying for two years and compare that to what you would be paying if you bought the unlocked version of the phone outright. It’s crazy how much more you end up spending under a contract than you would otherwise.

Contracts have some level of leeway to them. Carriers can implement huge changes (including data caps) that have a negative impact on your service. Being stuck in a contract locks you in for the ride. Yes, some carriers grandfather contracts, but keeping your unlimited data means very little when your provider starts throttling.

In the end, change depends on customers making a stand and speaking up. Why do we live in a world where tiny bits of SMS data cost $0.10 to send (or receive)? Why does the phrase unlimited mean something different for one carrier than it does for another? Why does the default setting for your account enable third-party companies to sign you up for subscriptions that you neither asked for nor actually use? It’s because people have allowed this to continue for so long.

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • Moni Fa

    Ryan, thanks for the tip ! I immediately checked my bill, no charges yet! But I called my carrier right away to request a passcode to be put on my account, to prevent such additional charges from third party subscriptions that I did not request. At first the rep tried to tell me that this was NOT possible, but thanks to you I told him YES I insist!!! I will let all my family and friends know about this also. You may have saved us hundreds of dollars, thanks again !

  • http://twitter.com/PodcastPurpose Podcast with Purpose

    Ryan,

    Crazy thing just got my bill online tonight and noticed the increased, checked out the details and I have $20 of these charges. Made a note to call AT&T tomorrow about it and then saw your post, quite helpful.

  • Chris

    This happened to me although I did correct it after reviewing my bill three months after it started. I got credited, too. I didn’t see anywhere to set up a pin number after enabling the block. I also have texting completely blocked (which is how the problem started). Do i need texting in order to set a PIN?

  • Aric Bolf

    I had this happen to me on AT&T as well. It was some charge for $20. I caught it on the second month and after haggling for 2 months, got refunded the $40. They gave excuses like “oh it will show on your next bill” and when it didn’t, i had to call back and it just went round and round.

    My solution was to cancel texting all-together. Yea for iMessage and email on my phone! Now i save $5 a month from texting and it is my vote against this scam nonsense.

    Apparently they send a spam like text out, if you dont respond NO to it, you are subscribed. IMO, illegal as hell. Can you imagine all advertisements working that way? Nobody would watch TV or use the internet.

    This happened to me over 2 years ago! So this isn’t new.

  • ross

    Please. Those “spammy” charges are for a service. Of course the service is worthless but it lures in less than average americans to pay them a service fee. Plus you are complaining about the cost? You can have a conversation w just about anyone in the world. Seriously that alone is impressive. Think about it.

  • Alpha

    It boggles my mind that people, generally speaking, do not look at their bills. I check each bill before I pay it and if I see a mistake, or false charge, I call and complain and get it fixed before I pay.

    It is scammy, I agree with that, but it is up to the consumer to be vigilant until the time we have a more proactive authorization system. Additionally, the regulators, such as the FTC, which are supposed to protect consumers need to get on their game and force AT&T to make right on this matter as well, but this is not the world we live in.

    My response to AT&T was to switch to a prepaid service. I have yet to have any surprises and I still get to ride on AT&T’s network (for half the price). Life is good.

  • rowdyward

    I have an AT&T land line and was inundated with third party charges, an extra sheet or two attached to my bill. Called AT&T and they had me call the third party company’s number. There was no argument…..they immediately took the charges off. You could tell they counted on people not reading their bills.

  • Randoman

    I was lucky. It only took me about 30 minutes and the AT&T rep was very helpful in getting me a refund and setting me up on the parental block for all my phones. She said they keep trying to stop them, but as soon as they implement a fix they find a way around it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/NeferSif NeferSif Serenity

    This went on with me and AT&T for over a year. Every time it would be fixed it would happen again. Wasting my minutes arguing with my cell company monthly was not working for me. I found a great solution. I canceled my service with AT&T and will never use them again for anything.