Premium text messages dial up unwanted charges for cell phone users


by Janet Roach

Posted on April 3, 2012 at 4:24 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 17 at 2:45 PM

NORFOLK -- Shair Harris is glad she pays close attention to her cell phone bill. About a month ago, she immediately noticed a mysterious charge for $14.99.  She quickly learned she was the victim of what's of a premium texting campaign.

Her carrier, Sprint was unable to tell her why she was targeted but warned about clicking on ads while surfing the internet with her phone.

Harris warns, "be careful what you click on when you go to these certain ads. You don't know. It's like almost signing an agreement-- like they will text you."

Had Harris not caught the charge, it would have appeared on her bill every month. Sprint agreed to remove the charge and blocked the messager from being able to text Harris again. The same thing happened to Elinor Mills, a correspondent for CNET who specializes in internet security and privacy.

She received a text on her phone from a company called, Inspiracell. A $9.99 charge showed up on her bill. Immediately, she contacted her carrier, Sprint and found out she was the victim of third party premium texting scheme. She believes her number was listed in a block of numbers that was somehow obtained by a third party, who signed her up for something she never wanted.

"It's infuriating that you've been charged for something that you had nothing to do with. These scammers get access to blocks of phone numbers. They will just automatically go through and auto dial them kind of. They'll somehow do that," says Mills, who did some research to find out more about the issue.

She discovered lawsuits had been filed by Verizon and the Texas attorney general's office against three dozen defendants, including Arizona company, Jawa. The defendants are accused slapping consumers with monthly fees for signing up for information, while never explaining there would be charges.

Mills not only got Sprint to remove the charges but the company blocked all text messages to her phone, a good move since it was a secondary phone she didn't use much anyway. She suggests consumers can get a block against third party texting. "Also, AT&T suggests you avoid calling 900 numbers. That's another way they can scam you too."

Mills believes it's important for the big name carriers to protect consumers from unwanted charges.

Verizon tell 13News, they have very specific requirements for any aggregators with whom they work:

Content providers and aggregators are required to adhere to best practices including:

-     Meet our content standards and apply a content rating to their campaigns so they can be filtered using our parental controls
-      Provide clear disclosure of pricing and billing information
-      Use a double opt-in system:   for web-based opt-ins, a customer must enter their phone number into the web site to indicate a desire to opt-in (the first opt-in) and then enter a PIN code in the web site, which is sent to the phone number via a text message, to verify they want the content and agree to pay for it
-           provide an easy opt-out system (sending stop or quit to cancel the service)

Verizon offers these tips for cell phone users:

•           Review monthly bills through MyVerizon and make sure you understand all the charges. 

•           Let us know if you don't understand a charge so we can help identify where that charge is coming from. 

•           If a customer doesn't remember a service that's billed, we'll help them opt out of that service. 

•           Verizon Wireless looks at these charges on a case-by-case basis, but generally our reps will refund unwanted PSMS charges up to $100, with no questions asked. 

•           When we notice a pattern of problems from any particular PSMS provider, we work to rectify the issue - fast.

•           Customers can add a PSMS block to their accounts to prevent any messages from PSMS providers from reaching their phones or charges from PSMS providers being placed on their phone bills.  This block is available for free through MyVerizon.  All messaging functions, including SMS and MMS, and other services will continue to function.