My 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.
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.