This Phone Bill Charge Was No Joke
Reader Luke Currano of Columbia, Md., recently sent me an e-mail about some extra cell-phone charges that really angered him. I wonder if any of you have had similar experiences.
Here's his tale: He added a cell phone line to his Cingular account for his younger sister. His next bill included an $8.69 charge on the new line for "Direct Bill Download Detail." It turns out, his sister had been getting "stupid, unfunny jokes text messaged to her phone for several days,"--79 cents for each joke, coming two to three times a day. Currano said this was not something she had signed up for. Currano complained to Cingular, but the first customer-service rep he talked with said Cingular couldn't do anything about the charges because they came from a third-party service. They referred Currano to that company, SMSfun4all.com.
When Currano called the company, all he got was a recording with instructions for subscribing and unsubscribing to horoscopes and jokes. There was no operator with whom he could dispute the charges, only a recording with an e-mail address.
Currano then searched the Internet and found lots of other complaints about SMSfun4all. He also visited the company's Web site and concluded his problems were not unique, considering some of the FAQ's on SMSFUN4ALL's Web site:
I have never subscribed to this service, but I am receiving messages, how is this possible?
It is impossible that customers receive messages at random on their mobile phone. The only way to subscribe to our service is by sending a text message with a keyword (joke or astro) from the mobile phone number that receives the messages to the service. Maybe somebody else used your mobile phone to subscribe to the service. In any case we are not allowed to send any messages before somebody actually subscribes.
My child subscribed to the service, can I get a refund?
We clearly communicate in all our advertisements that you have to be the legal owner and bill payer to subscribe. Beside this we clearly state that children under 18 must seek parental approval before subscribing to any of our services. In every case, the contracting party of the mobile phone, which receives the text messages, is responsible for the mobile phone. So, we are very sorry, but in this case you don't get a refund
Cingular spokesman Clay Owen said erroneous third-party billing is a very small problem, less than 1 percent of the total complaints the company receives. Even so, he said, the customer representative who talked to Currano "may have provided the wrong answer." Currano should have gotten full credit the first time he challenged the charge (if it had been the second or third time and he still hadn't dropped the joke-of-the-day service, the company may have been more reluctant to do so). Owen promised to take care of Currano's problems--once Currano calls to complain again.
Currano has since gotten his bill corrected. But he's still angry, particulary because he says it's not the first time he's seen unauthorized charges on the cell-phone bill, like a roadside assistance charge when he first signed up. He's gotten rid of those too, but his bad feelings remain.
Have you been plagued by erroneous third-party billing on your telephone bills? Let me know--by posting a comment or sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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