Cellphone Extras Aggregator Mobile Messenger Agrees To Pay Out Triple Damages

If you or your teen racked up surprise monthly fees from Mobile Messenger after texting a random code to a strange number because the tv told you to, then you may be eligible for a refund, if not triple damages.

Mobile Messenger was a classic middleman, managing the billing for third-parties who sold ringtones, games, alerts, jokes, horoscopes, and applications. Since they didn’t directly provide services, your itemized bill might display a short code instead of “Mobile Messenger.” Carefully check this list of codes (pdf) for anything familiar that might have cropped up on your bill.

The scammy subscription pusher’s settlement covers anyone who received an unauthorized charge between January 1, 2005 and August 13, 2008. Mobile Messenger had previously agreed to settle a class action covering only AT&T subscribers; if you’re eligible for both settlements, you can only file one claim form. Sorry!

Class members who received a one-time charge are eligible to dip into a settlement fund of up to $12 million. Anyone who was billed for subscription services without authorization can receive a refund for up to three times the amount of their monthly fee. The settlement is great news for the mother whose son charged $600 in a single month. She can look forward to an $1,800 payout.

The claim forms are available at the class action’s website.

Gray v. Mobile Messenger Class Action Settlement [via Top Class Actions]
(Photo: KB35)

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  1. Pylon83 says:

    That’s too bad. Company has to pay because stupid kids ignored the small print on the TV and sent text messages to the numbers on there. Parents profit because of their inability to control their children, or instill any amount of personal responsibility in them. Now those kids will see that if they do something stupid, all they have to do is sue and they’ll actually MAKE money!

    • equazcion says:

      @Pylon83: On the flipside, the company gets what it deserves for taking unfair advantage of kids who naturally naive about these things. I’m pretty happy with that.

    • panzerschreck1 says:

      @undefined: it did specify unauthorized subscription services. that would suggest that small print you’re talking about didn’t even happen in the first place.
      not that i would know.

    • crazydavythe1st says:

      @equazcion: It’s not taking advantage of kids, since they aren’t paying the bill. Part of a parent giving a minor a cellphone is taking responsibility for what they do with it. It’s taking advantage of the fact that most parents seem to trust their children for whatever reason. I don’t have children, but my experience as a child tells me that you can’t EVER trust children.

      • equazcion says:

        @crazydavythe1st: Parents who never trust their children end up with ADD kids who live in their basements til they’re 35, having never been given, and therefore never learned, any responsibility.

        • cjones27 says:

          @equazcion: Responsibility still falls on the parent to teach their kids not to text random numbers. When I was a teenager I called an, ahem, “entertainment” phone number. When the bill showed up, my dad made me wish phones had never been invented.

          • equazcion says:

            @crazydavythe1st: To address the main point, which I neglected:

            You can choose to blame the parents if you want, but what are you blaming them for? Giving their kids access to a cell phone? Kids can get into trouble in loads of other ways (and they do). Without an unhealthy stanglehold, parents can’t keep total control over what their kids do. Most parents nowadays consider a cell phone to be a reasonable allowance. You can disagree, but if you do eventually have kids, you should know that more control does not equal a better upbringing.

            @cjones27: Parents might not be aware of the ads that target their kids.

            @both: Kids are naive. A company that markets to kids has to be sensitive to that, or be prepared for whatever fallout might come from the perceived exploitation.

            • Pylon83 says:

              @equazcion:
              I totally agree that parents should trust their children and give them responsibility at a young age. However, part of that is taking responsibility for their actions. You gave them a cell phone, and you’re responsible for whatever they do with that cell phone.

              • dweebster says:

                @undefined: Kinda like allowing them to attend school and blaming them when they get kidnapped by a child molester and raped?

                These companies prey on short attention spans and the inability to digest the 2 point font disclaimers hidden at the bottom of the screen. Some parents find it useful for their children to have access to a phone for emergencies and other needs, especially when pay phones have become as rare as a realistic housing price. These executives think they can prey upon my kids’ naivete and they’ll be treated exactly as the child molesters they are. Good thing the courts are finally catching up to them.

                Additionally, I’ve talked with a LOT of folks who have been given “new” numbers that miraculously begin getting these $10+/month charges on them on their next bill. They and/or the kids swear up and down that they never signed up for the service, cell companies say when the number changes hands these “services” still keep billing the new owner.

              • equazcion says:

                @cjones27: Sure they should. But the one who preys on them should ALSO bear blame for taking advantage. Kids are everyone’s responsibility, not just their parents’.

                • equazcion says:

                  (that last response was suppose to go to the thread below)

                • thelushie says:

                  @equazcion: I am in now way responsible for someone else’s spawn. It is not my job to try and raise their children. “it takes a village” is bullshit. I am not having kids for quite a few reasons and I have no intention of taking on someone else’s troublemakers.

                  • equazcion says:

                    @thelushie: you misunderstand. I’m not asking you to raise anyone else’s children. I am asking you, as I am asking corporations, not to try to take unfair advantage of children. Courts and the rest of the law are there to ensure that you and they comply with this request, as they’ve demonstrated well here.

                  • equazcion says:

                    @thelushie: In other words, other people’s children are everyone’s responsibility as far as keeping away from them; ie. having at least the integrity to not harm or target them unfairly. I hope that at least is something you can agree with.

          • Preppy6917 says:

            @cjones27: Hmmm….I thought responsibility was having chores, not being given a cell phone by your parents.

    • Parting says:

      @Pylon83: Unfortunately, I’ve seen random ADULT people receive these type of messages. And they never participated in any sweepstakes or ”free” offers. This is not only about kids.

  2. johnnya2 says:

    Not sure how the woman whose son AUTHORIZED those charges gets her money back. The woman made the choice to allow access to a phone in her name and allow any transaction with it. Let’s pretend it was an ATM and little Johnny has the PIN. He goes to the bank with the ATM card and takes out mommys money. Should the bank “refund” the authorized transaction?

  3. Hmmm, there is an interesting little tidbit in the court settlement PDF about services “that were the result of the imposition of charges for Mobile Content authorized by the previous owner of a mobile number”

    Wondering if the previous commenters had time to read the court papers, or if they just made assumptions about what “unauthorized” means in this case, and commented on those assumptions…

    • Pylon83 says:

      @alphafemale:
      It says “alternatively, that were the result of…..authorized by the previous owner”. Read in context, the suit covers situations in which the child did it and in which they were billed for the previous owners use.

      • Parting says:

        @Pylon83: Not only. Especially on prepaid, a lot of phone numbers get ”recycled” in a very short time. So it is very easy get correspondence from previous owner of that phone number.

        I have a friend, who’s 70 year old grandma, received steamy sex (free) texts destined to a man, that owned that number previously. Grandma found that really hilarious, but since they were regular texts, she didn’t encounter any charges.

  4. dweebster says:

    These pay “services” should be BLOCKED BY DEFAULT on any phone, unless the customer SPECIFICALLY OPTS IN.

    Even better would be for the “main account holder” to have to fill in a web form or some such contract to make it a legal agreement. Sending a few texts doesn’t have anything close to a “meeting of the minds” and these bloodsucker companies should be held out to dry for these predatory tactics.

    • closed_account says:

      @dweebster: While we are at it why don’t we make a government paid accountant look over every home loan before any lender can approve it.

      People need to grow some balls. If you cant trust your kid (or anyone that can run up your bill for you without your consent) to have a phone, they shouldn’t have one. That’s the bottom line. People don’t “accidentally subscribe” to these services.

      Granted kids may not understand. If they don’t understand then you have failed to educate them enough and they should not have a phone in the first place.

      • equazcion says:

        @chadbailey: Reiterating my points from above, yes parents need to be aware of the risks in giving their kids use of a cell phone, but certain business practices in marketing to kids, such as targeted ads with fine print, is still predatory, and it should be controlled.

      • humphrmi says:

        @chadbailey: I don’t think that comparing an opt-in program with a “government paid accountant” is necessarily accurate. Many people may not know that these charges can be made on their (or their childrens) mobile phone. If Timmy starts whining to unlock these charges so that he can download ringtones, then it’s up to the parents to control that (and be responsible for the charges.) Otherwise – I agree, mandatory opt-in would be a great way to solve the problem.

    • Parting says:

      @dweebster: Those text messages use same technology as web messaging. If you block them, you cannot receive texts from the internet/email clients at all. And lots of people use those services.

    • Parting says:

      @dweebster: And I don’t see why should I have to waste my time calling my cellphone provider to unblock web messages, only because some company committed fraud, or some irresponsible kids abused it. Not my problem.

  5. viqas says:

    to be honest i tried reading one of those disclaimers and they are hard to read on the tv screen. also they appear and go away so quickly that you can not read the whole terms.

    That to be honest is unfair. but then again that woman didnt give her son a talk about responsibilities. Also many providers give you the option to not be able to do premium texting.

    If i had kids and they need mobiles, they will have those kid phones with 4 buttons.

  6. Parting says:

    In many cases those messages were received by ADULT people that never participated in any ”sweepstakes” or ”free offer something”. Sometimes they would receive messages in languages they don’t even speak. Or messages destined to the previous owner of the phone number.

    There were a lot of cases which were much more like ”bill cramming”, then kids irresponsible behavior (which happens anytime anyway).

  7. mewyn dyner says:

    To everyone blaming parents for kids using these “services”, give me a break. These things are clearly predatory. They post disclaimers that you can’t really read on a standard TV and try to get kids who don’t fully know about value.

    You honestly cannot expect a kid of 10 or 11 to be an expert at value yet, they won’t realize the 50 cent lame joke that they get once will turn quickly into a $500 bill. These companies target kids with cell phones by advertising on later shows that kids may be watching without parental supervision.

    “Oh, but you should be watching your kids!” you may respond? Yah, many responsible parents do, but you cannot and should not watch them every second of the day, and with these premium texting services it takes only a second to incur a large bill.

    One thing I’d like to see is a capping of cell phone bills, I don’t think you should ever be charged 1000+% of what you normally pay for any reason. (Not that it should be absolved per se, but more like “ok you just quadrupled your bill, we’re cutting you off until you say ok to us for this”, but you know that’s not going to happen.)

    • thelushie says:

      @mewyn dyner: What about turning off the texting function on the phone. As much as kids don’t need cell phones, they really don’t need to be texting.

      Capping of the cell phone bill could take away someone else’s right to run up their phone bill as strange as that does sound. Everyone should not have to pay because kids are given too much freedom.

      • mewyn dyner says:

        @thelushie:

        Not every provider will disable texts. I’ve tried and friends of mine have tried. They don’t want to disable it.

        Also, what’s wrong with authorizing overages? Why should people have huge surprises on their bills because they hit a wall they were either unaware of or misinformed of? Remember the guy who racked up several thousand dollars of fees because Verizon said that it was 0.02 cents per megabyte and not 0.02 dollars? Is it so hard to have an automated message saying “Your bill is twice what it normally is, do you wish to continue? Press one for yes, two for no.”? Remember, this is the consumerist, where here for protecting the consumer.

      • rekoil says:

        @thelushie: Well, have it work like credit cards when they flag suspicous transactions – every time I’ve ordered something expensive like a new computer on my Amex, I got a call to verify that it was really me making the purchase. If the cell providers had a similar verification system in place, putting a hold on short-message charges over a certain threshold (say, 2x the usual cellphone bill) until verified by the account owner, these companies wouldn’t be able to run up the bills that resulted in the class-action suit in the first place.

  8. kabuk1 says:

    It makes me mad when people blame the parents for kids doing stuff like this. KIDS ARE DUMB!!! They’ll do anything they see on TV, whether its signing up for joke o’ the day or becoming sexually active after accidentally flipping over to daddy’s playboy channel. While I agree that parents should talk to their kids about stuff like this, the blame certainly cannot be placed solely on the parents when problems arise. I mean, think back to when YOU were a kid- even though your parents taught you well & you knew right from wrong, you still did stupid shit & got in trouble, right? I know I sure did.

    Kids don’t know there are gonna be astronomical extra charges from that daily joke or horoscope, they don’t even think about that, and those shady-ass companies CERTAINLY don’t mention the charges in the ad. “Additional charges may apply” doesn’t exactly prepare you for a monthly recurring subscription fee. Hell, ADULTS fall for these scams too, it’s not just kids. Even I texted a code to a 5 digit number ages ago, I think it was jamster or something, just cause I was curious. Nothing happened, thankfully, cause those ‘premium services’ wouldn’t work with Sprint at that time so I dodges a bullet.

    These ads AND these companies need to be sued for deceptive advertising and stopped. Preying on dumb kids’ stupidity is just criminal.

    • thelushie says:

      @kabuk1: After my parents taught me, if I got into trouble then it became MY responsibility. And if I were to do this with my cell phone at a young age, I would have been working to pay off the charges: if old enough, at an outside job, or if too young for that, around the house.

  9. JayDeEm says:

    I grew up in the era of the 976 and 900 numbers targeted at kids with the usual ‘be sure to get permission’ disclaimer. I remember getting (and paying for) my own phone line when I was 13 or 14, for the modem of course, and having the option to block 900 numbers and the like. In an ideal world, a person would be required to select which services to block/allow when signing the contract. That would make the choice obvious for most folks, but not very profitable to the providers.

    There are a lot of ways to rack up a big bill in this world without knowing it. Given the option up front to block these gotchas (those that can be reasonably predicted and enforced by a service provider of course), most people would make the right choice. Too often it seems that people never learn about these things until it’s too late. Sure, they’re probably buried in the 37 pages of 6pt contract legalese, but that’s exactly the problem. Anything in one of these contracts that could lead to a customer being charged needs to be spelled out up front in clear language, and where reasonable, an opt-out option should be available.

  10. equazcion says:

    To those blaming the parents:

    I hear where you’re coming from. It sucks how parents today tend to blame outside influences for their kids’ actions.

    If my kids set a fire, it’s cause they saw someone do it on TV, I’ll sue the TV show. If they shot someone, I’ll write angry letters to the editor about violence in rap music. Everyone needs to censor what they do because they have to realize that as much as adults like this stuff, my kids are watching too, and if I can’t control what my kids see, it’s up to you to not show them.

    Those things piss me off too, trust me. There are a lot of parents out there who just don’t want to take responsibility for raising their kids.

    However be careful not to lump in the real predators along with the other false-positives. There’s a difference between the simple reality of the world that a child must learn to deal with, versus predators that specifically target children’s weaknesses.

    To draw an extreme comparison, if a stranger convinces a kid to get in his car on the walk home from school, do you blame the parents for not educating their child enough/allowing them to walk home alone? Or do you blame the predator? Perhaps you would blame both. But either way, it isn’t unreasonable to request and expect that people adopt the negative responsibility of simply not targeting children’s naivete.

    I do have a responsibility to raise my kids to the best of my ability, but that doesn’t give you the right to test my child-rearing prowess by tempting my children; and my responsibility as a parent certainly doesn’t absolve you of all culpability in that case.

    If you put an ad in my child’s cartoon show that tricked them into spending money, you can’t put all the blame on me for not teaching them the right way. I’m trying my best here, and you could at least not deliberately try to make my job harder. Maybe we’re both to blame, but we’re BOTH to blame. Not just me the parent.

    I don’t actually have kids, by the way, but it was easier to write this in the first person. Thanks for trying to understand, if you did make the attempt.

  11. razremytuxbuddy says:

    Those who would blame parents and their children for this need to know that the companies blame the children because it works.

    I don’t have children, and no one but me has ever made a call on my cell phone. I don’t send text messages and don’t want to receive them. So, when I got two text messages in one day, trying to get a response from me for a ringtone subscription, I first called my cell phone provider, Alltel, who insisted they can’t do anything to stop a company from soliciting me by text message or adding charges to my bill without my consent.

    Then I researched the name of the company who texted me, identified the parent company, and then the name of their officers. I called their General Counsel. She returned my call and when I explained that I’d gotten these unsolicited text messages, she said “Your children must have signed you up without you knowing it.” I told her I have no children, and I wanted to know exactly how and when I “signed up” for this. She said she’d have to investigate. I asked how long it would take. She said she didn’t know, and got uppity with me. I told her she had until noon the following day to let me know what she found, or I would file a complaint with our Attorney General. She called back in minutes, and told me it must have been a “mistake,” that someone else must have signed up for their ringtone subscription and typed in the “wrong number.”

    Based on my experience, these companies operate an illegal scam. It is predatory and if they’d actually place a charge on my bill I would have considered it theft and fraud. And yes, they tried to blame my nonexistent children.

  12. celticgina says:

    I *do* have children. Although I appreciate those trying to explain parenting without any real knowledge! ;}}}}}

    My son at age 12 texted one of these things. I monitor the cell bill all the time and caught it pretty early.

    Sprint, (insert the obligatory derisive comment here), told me that it was a ‘contract’ with the third party my son had made. I pointed out that since he can not legally be a party to a contract, there was no meeting of the minds and they needed to remove the charge. I told them to provide proof to me that as the person who pays the bill and is the adult that *I* had contracted with this company. I also pointed out that since they were contracted to provide third party billing, they were parties to an illegal contract.

    I got the charges removed, blocked any kind of activity like this. (YEAH, my kids think I suck because they can’t used the internet on the phone).

    Then I had a SERIOUS conversation with the kids about these texting ‘services’ and what they do. I also told them that having a phone was a convience for ME. If that stopped, so would the phone.

    They got it, especially after I pointed out again that the phone co prints EVERY number going out and coming in. (ok so I exagerated on that one…I can live with the guilt!)

    The kids are not completely at fault.

    But we DO have to constantly remind kids that ANY stranger handing out anything (candy, cool ringtones) are to be avoided.

  13. econobiker says:

    Children cannot make contracts. So all the bashers about children not playing with the phone need to consider the analogy:

    Your 12 year old child is standing on the front lawn of your home. The newspaper sales person comes by and says if you subscribe to this newspaper he/she will get
    full color comics with pretty cartoons every Sunday. Child says sure and newspaper sends a bill for $100 a month to your mailbox even though regular subs usually cost $20 a month.

    What is the difference?

  14. Anonymous says:

    I had a charge on my first two bills from Verizon and I’m not a kid. I have no idea how they got on my bill since I didn’t subscribe to anything or text anyone. I think it has to be a scam and if they do it to all new cell phone subscribers, they are making millions.

  15. SD-MM says:

    We at Mobile Messenger would like to assist you with your concern or complaint. If you need assistance in regards to being unsubscribed or other related issues, please do not hesitate to contact us. Please call 1-800-416-6129 Monday to Friday 0600 – 1800 US Pacific Time or email escalationsus@sms-helpdesk.com

    SANDRA
    MOBILE MESSENGER