A little more progress after I had my mobile phone account held up:
A letter from a Vodafone Customer Relations Specialist arrived this morning which did at least depart from the standard script used so far. They very carefully didn’t accept any liability but made some goodwill gestures instead, so I finally have my money back and should be properly invoiced from now on, at no extra charge. One thing they are still unwilling, or unable, to do is prevent the same situation being repeated. I’m quite happy with the ring tone that came with my phone, and I’m not interested in paying for an expensive call to find out if I’ve won a fabulous prize, so I would much rather block any future reverse charge SMS texts. The closest they offered was to block all SMS messages, both incoming and outgoing! Not exactly useful when I use texts more than phone calls on my mobile.
In many respects I think that existing laws should already protect customers if only the mobile phone companies accepted their liability. In particular, my contract is with Vodafone, not some 3rd party I have never interacted with, so they should be refunding me for services I have not requested. Given the unwillingness of Vodafone to take responsibility for the charges they are billing their customers for, and I suspect other companies are no different*, I wonder if a premium rate guarantee would be useful to increase the level of protection for consumers. Perhaps the following would be a good start:
- an option to accept or reject a message should be given before each reverse charge SMS is delivered (if this is not given, the company billing the recipient should be liable for providing an immediate refund)
- it should be possible to block all premium rate services on an account without affecting other services
- a proper invoice should be provided for any premium rate services at no extra cost
I would be very interested if you have any comments or suggestions.
* if there is a mobile network that does better than Vodafone, please let me know!
Update: was very pleased to receive another letter from my MP last night, who has also written to Ofcom. Looking forward to seeing how they respond.
17 Dec Update: another follow up letter from my MP who has received a teflon letter from Ofcom telling him that it’s a matter for PhonePay Plus, the premium rate industry body. No prizes for predicting what they’re going to say! I think Ofcom are missing the point that the mobile phone company are dodging their liability, regardless of what the companies sending these texts are doing. I also finally received the itemised bills Vodafone have been promising for so long. Unfortunately the bills are about as useful as a chocolate teapot; one of the text messages is so well hidden that I can’t find it, and the other is just labeled as a premium service, or something similar, with no indication of who sent it. I think I’ll be writing to Arun Sarin again since even the extra special call centre staff I now have the number for are completely uninterested.
It has been just over a month since receiving a couple of unwanted reverse charge SMS texts, so here’s a quick highway robbery update:
- I have just received, and paid in, a refund sent as Postal Order from one of the SMS companies. My guess is that it was from 81404 as they did actually get in touch, unlike the other company. Nothing in the envelope other than the Postal Order though (I think it’s the first Postal Order I have ever received!) so it could have been an early Christmas present I guess! The person who phoned from 81404 explained that they were unable to simply refund the charge made to my Vodafone account directly so, in part thanks to Royal Mail delays, I have had to wait a month to get the refund. Still, I’m actually quite impressed to get it at all, so the October award for best effort goes to 81404.
- Vodafone did eventually reply in writing to my complaint, unfortunately it appears that they didn’t take the time to read my letter before replying. Instead they just restated exactly what they had told me on the phone. I have had a couple of attempts at encouraging them to take the matter seriously, but despite the promise of a free itemised bill for September (it might be nice to know exactly how badly you’re being ripped off) and forwarding my complaint on to a manager for a reply, I have not received anything more from them. Looks like I’ll be writing to their CEO Arun Sarin next.
- I have just been on the phone to Royal Mail about one of the other letters that I sent recorded delivery and they can find no trace of it on their system. So it looks like Icstis may have an excuse for not replying yet. An updated letter will be on its way to them shortly though.
- As I suspected, my MP was the first person to respond in writing, however I still await a full reply. Looks like he might have other things on his mind now but I look forward to hearing from him soon.
I completely forgot about the Watchdog option last month. The last time I wrote to them was about phones 4u… what is it about phone companies?!!
I almost went for “Hightech robbery” but actually, it’s not that hightech at all. Just send a premium rate reverse charge SMS text message to someone who didn’t ask for it and collect. Who on earth thought they would be a good idea?! Especially when they arrive without any chance to accept or reject them before the money is taken. Even worse, there’s no way to stop it keep happening: Vodafone won’t let me block any future reverse charge messages to my account. So every time it happens you have to look up the number on the ICSTIS site (try 80122 or 81404 for example) to attempt to get a refund.
Your mobile account is being treated like a debit account for ‘services’ (not that I even got a ring tone for the money) without any of the protection of a bank account. I’ve wasted the entire evening writing to Vodafone, the two companies who stole money, ICSTIS, and my MP. I’ll also be writting to OFCOM and possibly the Information Commissioner’s Office. Wonder who will reply first… I don’t think Vodafone have ever replied to me in writing, I’m not holding my breath for Tanla Mobile Ltd or Zamano Ltd, and I suspect ICSTIS, OFCOM and the Information Commissioner’s Office are going to be completely disinterested. MPs are usually pretty good though, and I did actually vote for this one; maybe I should have mentioned that in my letter!!