Watch Out: Spam Texts Could Be Text Scams

Ah, for the days when phone slammers had to actually call you in order to enroll you in services you don’t want. P.W. tells Consumerist that he received a few texts from an unknown shortcode number, most likely wrote them off as spam, and ignored them. Until he noticed a mysterious $10 charge on his phone bill.

Today I happened to notice at the very end of my AT&T wireless bill, a charge of 9.99 for something called “Love Alerts”… it seemed to indicate that my NEXT charge would be on 1/16/2011. Since I have never received any “Love Alerts” and never wanted any, and frankly had no idea what they were, I called AT&T. Within a minute I was connected to a nice cheerful young fellow, and I proceeded to explain my problem. This young man acted as though this was a frequent and routine complaint.

Now I had looked at the date of this charge and had gone back through my text messages to see if there was anything I might have responded to that could have caused this charge… there was nothing. But when this young man looked at his end he noticed that this was the SECOND month I was being charged for this bogus service.

He was excellent. He refunded both charges, and set up a purchase block for me. Nothing can be purchased by texting from my phone without a code number being entered. So, hopefully, this won’t happen again.

But now that I knew that I had been charged for two months, I went back in my texts to the 16th of the previous month. There were 3 messages from number “340-95″ Two of them informed me that I had enrolled in this service, and what I had to do to “opt out”, and one message looked like it was part of a conversation… except it was a conversation I never had and have no idea what it was about. (enclosed is a screen capture from my iPhone)

I am assuming the middle text was one of the “Love texts” I was charged $10.00 for.

My advice is that if you see a text message like this (and I did but just ignored it), contact your provider and make sure you aren’t somehow signed up for something without any action or consent on your part.

It’s not a bad idea to have purchase blocking put on your mobile account in general – especially if you’re on a family plan with anyone who is less scam-savvy than most Consumerist readers.

Comments

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  1. Megladon says:

    Sue them, for fun and profit!

    • BigSlowTarget says:

      If you think fun is paying your lawyer and consider claims never to be collected from a scammer company you can never enforce against to be profit.

    • Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

      Good luck. Judging by the screenshot provided by the OP, he’s paying 10 EURO, not $10. Even if you can find out who to sue, do you think your judgment will yield any results? OP did the right thing to get the block on, and AT&T did the right thing to reverse the phantom charges.

  2. oldwiz65 says:

    I always hated the 3rd party billing feature that the telcos allow. I think it should default to blocked unless you specifically request it. The telcos allow it since they get a cut of the money (for the “cost” of doing the billing), but they really just see it as another way to earn some money. If enough people don’t pay attention, the telcos can pick up a nice chunk of change.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      This. The reason the TelCos are so cheerful and accomodating to remove those fees is because A) They are making effortless profit, and B) they know that this is a shady practice and if it was difficult to get refunds the government and general populace would have demanded it be outlawed years ago.

  3. Lolotehe says:

    I’m guessing this won’t work on pre-paids.

  4. Mom says:

    Does anyone buy anything legitimate using their cell phone? I mean besides sending $10 to Haiti (which seemed like a scam in itself, since they didn’t get the money for months).

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      No, I don’t use that for anything. I don’t even get ringtones over mine (it’s prepaid and they’d be insanely expensive anyway), since I can make my own and just email them to myself. I might if I had a smartphone, though, so I’m glad they warned about this stuff.

  5. TheRedSeven says:

    You can also respond to any of these unwanted ads with ‘STOP’ (no quotes) as the text of the message, and you will not be charged. It’s a universal way to communicate “I do not want to receive any more texts from this number, and I do not accept any charges.”

    It should be illegal for them to have an ‘opt-out’ system, but the remedy is pretty simple. If you happen to miss one, do like the OP and call your cell provider to have it blocked.

    • Wombatish says:

      Sometimes you are charged by the time the initial message (the one that instructs you to reply STOP) shows up.

      Are they supposed to? No. Do they anyways? Yes.

    • Willow16 says:

      I would think that they don’t always listen. My son was getting spam texts regularly. We did block premium texts from his line but the others kept coming. I called VW and was told that the numbers couldn’t be blocked because complete phone numbers weren’t showing up. They told me to text back “cancel” and that should stop them. It didn’t. In fact, I got a response of “no, I’m not going to stop. Sucks to be you.” I changed his number and now he gets no spam texts.

      • AstroPig7 says:

        Verizon has the ability to determine the actual source of the phone numbers, but they won’t without a subpoena. It really does suck to be a typical consumer sometimes.

    • Dory says:

      Well… no. Not at all. (If the message said “Reply with the text STOP to subscribe to this service”, then you would actually be enrolling yourself.)

      The best solution is not to reply at all, and file a chargeback or complaint with your telco if any charges appear. The onus is on the organization to show that you’ve opped into the service, and if you’ve never communicated with them in any way, shape or form, you manifestly haven’t done so. There’s no point in muddying the waters. (Do you really think someone who enrols complete strangers in their scammy $10-a-month service would just meekly honour an opt-out request?)

    • RayanneGraff says:

      Actually, sometimes replying “stop” actually acts as a confirmation to these dirtbag companies and and all it means to them is that the number is valid. Thus, they DON’T stop, but keep signing you up for more shit cause now they know the number works. Best thing to do is ignore it, call your provider, and ask them to block all content downloads & premium services.

  6. vastrightwing says:

    My well intentioned daughter started “donating” money by texting to some donation code. I immediately noticed these charges on my phone bill. I called my carrier and asked them to disable all 3rd party billing on my account. So far no more problem. It stinks you have to opt out of 3rd party billing. Oh, I never plan on using my cell phone for making payments. EVER!

    • Jemish says:

      Maybe wise to tell her not to mess around with her phone number like that either. A lot of things angled at kids and avid gamers ask for phone numbers that lead to charges like this.

      Definitely discuss it with her because although you have it blocked now, you never know what the next thing may be used to scrape money through weird angles from kids. You really need to read the fine print on everything anymore.

  7. MRT says:

    According to the screenshot, the amount is in Euros, but the OP was charged in Dollars. Is the conversion rate between Euros and Dollars 1:1?

  8. JustZisGuy says:

    $10/month for occasional romantic text messages.

    I got bit by this, too, from GeneralTexting. The “service” was to send me the current weather for a random city, once a month.

    This is a scam that the cell phone companies seem quite complacent in as they get a cut of every charge.

  9. f5alcon says:

    had this happen as well, got sprint to block all 5 digit text only numbers

  10. RayanneGraff says:

    Ugh… the people behind these scam-text companies deserve to be drawn and quartered. Seriously, they’re some of the absolute lowest scum of the earth. This same thing happened to me right after I switched to T-Mobile in April, some ‘joke of the day’ text just showed up on my phone one day. I ignored it(which you should always do, replying “stop” or “cancel” only confirms that your number is valid & they’ll just keep signing you up for more bullshit) and called T-Mobile, and sure enough- they found a $9.99 ‘premium services’ charge on my account. They took it off & blocked all content downloads and paid services, and I haven’t had a problem since.

  11. mmcnary says:

    Cricket for the win! My daughter has an unlimited plan. She can text and talk and surf and all that good stuff all she wants, but unless there’s money in the special features bucket, nothing can be charged through her phone account.

  12. gman863 says:

    The same scam applies to ringtones.

    A few months ago I received a text message from AT&T (not a third party) inviting me to download a free ring tone. No fine print.

    When I went to the MediaNet browser, there was a link to download the free ringtone. Once I clicked it I got a message I was now enrolled in “Jamster” at $9.95 per month. I immediately sent back a text to “STOP”; however the next message said the initial $9.95 (already billled to my account within 3 minutes) would not be refunded.

    I called AT&T immediately. Although the rep was nice and seemed like he had dealt with this countless times, he could not provide an answer on why AT&T was sending out texts offering a “free” item without a disclosure about the automatic subscription.

    • Dan T. says:

      If they didn’t give any disclosure prior to charging you, you probably have grounds to sue them, or even get federal criminal charges filed against them by the FTC.

  13. Robert Nagel says:

    Do this with your land line phone service also. I noticed a charge for $10.00 on my phone bill after we switched back to AT&T from a different carrier. I called and was informed that this was a bill from an outside company for some sort of service I never did understand, or need. I called them up and they informed me they would look into it and get back with me. I received an email telling me the charge was valid and had been okay ed by someone with a name that had never darkened our door from our companies founding 25 years ago.
    I looked into the situation and found that this was a company that had been sued by the Ohio attorney general for cramming services several years ago. When I called and informed them that there was nobody by that name the stated that the records were in storage and as soon as they dug them out they would get back to me. I received a very nice email telling me that while I had signed up for the service several years ago I hadn’t used it and therefore they would refund the charges to me. I got a check for a little over $250.00 from them. It was, of course, a scam. I wasn’t on AT&T when they supposedly started billing me and they could not have gotten any money from AT&T or the company I was using. They had no way of knowing that I had not been using AT&T as I was keeping that in reserve if I had to fight this out.
    I think they tried to cram me and it was entered in their records, but they didn’t receive any payments as they could only do this with AT&T. Without checking to see if they actually received any money they assumed they had and in light of the settlement with the Ohio attorney general felt discretion was the better part of valor and paid me off. Mark this as one for the good guys and a profit for me.
    Call you land line and ask for a block of any and all third party charges. They, at least AT&T, have to submit them to you on your bill and have no ability to independently block them. It seems this is a license to steal.

  14. VouxCroux says:

    Maybe he signed up online for a dating quiz or something and didn’t realize it. It happens. I think the OP is probably just an idiot like that.

  15. westhinksdifferent says:

    I used to work for a company that did this–we created mobile “entertainment” campaigns, which were cleverly disguised landing pages to “trick” the user into signing up for them. There’s no way to opt-in to the service without going through the entire landing page flow and THEN entering the PIN # they text you into the final page of the flow. The OP definitely fell for this, but is probably just too embarrassed to admit it. Seriously, that’s the only way to get these alerts.

    They’ve gotten the flow down to a science; from how they display the pricing to the size/color of the buttons to the call to actions. What’s funny is, their conversion rates are about 1-2%, since most people get wise to it within the first few seconds from being on the landing page. Even so, they still make millions of dollars per campaign, because the people who do end up going through the whole flow usually don’t check their bills and keep making the recurring payments.

  16. westhinksdifferent says:

    I used to work for a company that did this–we created mobile “entertainment” campaigns, which were cleverly disguised landing pages to “trick” the user into signing up for them. There’s no way to opt-in to the service without going through the entire landing page flow and THEN entering the PIN # they text you into the final page of the flow. The OP definitely fell for this, but is probably just too embarrassed to admit it. Seriously, that’s the only way to get these alerts.

    They’ve gotten the flow down to a science; from how they display the pricing to the size/color of the buttons to the call to actions. What’s funny is, their conversion rates are about 1-2%, since most people get wise to it within the first few seconds from being on the landing page. Even so, they still make millions of dollars per campaign, because the people who do end up going through the whole flow usually don’t check their bills and keep making the recurring payments.

  17. wickedr says:

    > It’s not a bad idea to have purchase blocking put on your mobile account in general – especially if you’re on a family plan with anyone who is less scam-savvy than most Consumerist readers.

    I think it’s a great idea, does anyone know how to do it for AT&T (Or other carriers) on their websites, or do you have to call in?

  18. FlynK-9 says:

    Ever put your mobile number in while taking one of those great What Kind of Mushroom Are You quizzes on Facebook? They’re notorious for this. I guess sometimes in your zeal to announce that you are, in fact, a Crimini, you don’t wonder why you’re typing in your cell number, let alone read the tiny fine print about signing up for Mushroom Joke of the Month texts.

  19. erinpac says:

    I got signed up for one of these disguised as a legitimate collect call. The person *did* try to call me collect from a normal seeming pay phone with no quarters. I hit one for okay after really hearing their voice…. and instead of their call I got signed up for some sort of zodiac fortunes texts at $5 each (which Sprint promptly cancelled and refunded).

  20. Poidon05 says:

    So I checked my electronic bill last night because they always vary I like to take a look now and then. I have 4 lines on my account and two of the lines have not been in use for 13 months and 6 months (waiting for the contract to end). Some how both of these lines have been charged from 3rd party billing, the phones have been physically off the whole time and at some point got these messages and it was “my fault” for not texting STOP.
    When I called they wanted me to pay for the one text outside of 90 days because I should have reviewed every line of my 120 – 400 page electronic bill and figured out that some random company was billing my unused lines. So 48 minutes and 4 people later I proved that the lines were indeed off and unused, but if they had been used they said there was nothing they could do because that would mean I saw the text and agreed to the terms by not texting STOP.
    They let me know they have this free service that they could apply to my account called a “PURCHASE BLOCKER” and it would verify with a text thru ATT that I actually wanted the charges and no response to the ATT texts means I do not want the charges. They should apply this anytime you open an account it would sure help with the headaches.