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Don’t get caught out by this premium rate text rip-off

It can be all too easy to accidentally sign up to a costly premium rate text messaging service. Here we explain what to do if you are caught out...


by Victoria Bischoff on Jun 21, 2012 at 08:00

Don’t get caught out by this premium rate text rip-off

Accidentally signing up to receive premium rate texts can prove a costly mistake – and unfortunately a number of sneaky companies are making this all too easy to do.

Here we explain how to avoid premium text rip-offs and what to do if you are caught out.

What is a premium rate text?

Companies use premium rate numbers to charge you for services – such as specialist helplines for example – through your monthly phone bill or mobile phone credit.

Premium rate numbers generally begin with 09, 118, 0871, 0872 and 0873, while mobile text shortcode numbers – the five and six digit numbers you use to enter text competitions, subscribe to daily news and traffic updates or download apps – usually start with 5,6,7, or 8.

The catch

Although at times a convenient way to pay for something quickly, it can be easy to sign up to premium text service without realising and end up with one shocker of a phone bill as a result – something my sister was unfortunate enough to experience recently.

The first indicator of something amiss was a monthly mobile phone bill some £25 higher than it should be.

After calling her phone provider to find out what was going on, Three informed her that she’d signed up to a premium text service and had received six texts costing £5 a pop in just one month – texts which my sister had deleted without opening as they were from a number she didn’t recognise and so assumed they were spam.

Having no recollection of ever signing up to a premium rate text service, Three advised her to cancel the subscription by replying STOP and provided her with the company's phone number to find out what was going on.

However, surprise, surprise – there was no answer. So, after spotting a number of similar complaints online, she spoke to premium rate phone regulator PhonepayPlus.    

It soon emerged that she had been tricked into signing up to the premium text service by an online advert for a ‘free’ battery boosting smartphone app – Juice Booster. By downloading the app she was automatically signed up to a subscription for the costly texts without her knowledge.

PhonepayPlus said it had received some 60 complaints about the same app, adding that many more had probably downloaded it and not known who to complain to.

In order to speed up the result for customers PhonepayPlus said it had dealt with the company informally, and that the firm had agreed to refund everyone who had downloaded the app and amend its advertising to make it clear the app is not free.

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4 comments so far. Why not have your say?


Jun 21, 2012 at 14:05

"treat your phone number like a PIN" yes don't share it with anyone, what useless advice. The very least network operators could do is send a courtesy text message indicating when you have been signed up to subscription service because clearly it's way to easy for unscrupulous people to sign you up without your consent.

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kathleen wood

Jun 21, 2012 at 18:01

I (so embarrasing) got trapped by Zynga. Online quiz. Had no idea I was being ripped off for about 3 months as I was abroad. Three texts weekly which I was just deleting till the penny dropped. Ouch!!! I am 65 yrs old and thought I could not be conned by anyone.

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alex dekker

Jun 21, 2012 at 18:19

"treat your phone number like a PIN"

It's a bit stupid that something you need to share with other people in order to be useful needs to be kept secret - not dissimilar to the way that you need to give all your card details to a merchant in order to pay them with it.

Some slightly more useful advice would be to contact your mobile network and ask them to bar premium rate texts. Tesco, T-Mobile [if they still exist] and Vodafone will do this. Any network who won't bar them is happy to take a cut of the fraudulent charges.

In my opinion, the risk of being hit by this isn't justified by the convenience of being able to make payments with premium numbers, which is why I've had this blocked on mine.

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william Westlake

Jun 23, 2012 at 08:24

The providers should, by law, be held responsible for protecting their customer's interests and forced to refund customers their money in the event of a complaint.

The providers would then be a little more proactive in scrutinising the companies that trade using premium rate numbers, and the phone companies themselves would use their considerable legal clout to chase the criminals that do this.

Instead the service providers cry crocodile tears whilst filling their back pockets at the expense of their conned customers.

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