Text message bill shock continues to hit consumers. Back in 2011, spam text messages started to bombard smart phones, as tech gadgets enjoyed growing popularity and turned into one of life’s necessities. Horror stories of consumers being billed with unwanted texts swirled around and sparked public backlash. Apart from the stories covered by mainstream media, victims billed by the Big 3 telecom providers -- Rogers, Bell and TELUS-- were also featured in the special report column of this newspaper.
Sheng Yi, a Chinese News reader who had kept her phone charges below $200, was shocked when a $700 phone bill arrived. It claimed third-party charges for a variety of mobile premium text services, from ring-tone subscriptions to IQ trivia questions. Yi who claims to have never subscribed to these services later discovered that it was her 9-year-old son who fell for the sales tactics of some short message providers that increasingly target under-aged children.
Yi’s request for refund was squarely turned down by Rogers at the time.
These text message services would use various prizes to lure consumers into signing up for a subscription. However, Chinese News investigation found that consumers were billed for text messages despite the fact that they had not completed the subscription process that required their “double opt-in” actions.
The soaring number of consumer complaints sparked concerns from consumer advocate groups and government agencies – including PIAC, CRTC, Competition Bureau and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Lawsuits also put the telecoms in the legal crosshairs.
According to CBC Go Public, in September 2012, following a five-month investigation, the federal Competition Bureau announced it was suing Rogers, along with Bell, Telus and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association for $10 million each and demanding refunds for customers billed for unwanted premium text messages.
A recently released report by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), which calls for stronger consumer protection, alleges that telecoms’ practices with double opt-in process are not transparent to consumers, calling for tougher regulatory control.
But despite the lawsuits and backlash, Rogers’ customers have kept falling victims to the misleading practices as Rogers has never given up its role as a billing agent for premium message service providers.
As CBC Go Public reports, a Canadian lawyer has been billed for a fortune-telling service he insists he never agreed to. He has paid almost $300 for the text messages for two years since 2012. After he filed a complaint with Rogers, he was sent by Rogers on a wild goose chase and to take it up with the fortune teller, ifortune.
Rogers’ initial offer of $50 was unable to satisfy the complainant. The customer service then offered him an additional $10 to keep him quite.
“He (the representative) offered me [another] $10 if I didn’t do anything, if I didn’t call the media or talk to a lawyer. I told him this looks like a pretty shady business practice,” the complainant told the CBC.
After the media intervened, Rogers changed its tone by offering full refund to the complainant and promised to provide full refund to customers in the same boat. However, its website indicates that it’s the customer’s responsibility to contact “third party content providers” directly regarding billing inquiries.
In fact, premium short messages are a lucrative side business for telecom providers. According to a report published by a consumer advocacy group in 2011, telecoms shared as much as 50% of the text messages revenues that were charged to consumer each month. That may explain why some telecom providers are reluctant to provide full refund to consumers.
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