I’m not much into horoscopes and fortune-telling, which is why I didn’t have a crystal ball on my desk to throw across the room and smash after talking with AT&T’s billing department this morning.
It all began when I noted that my AT&T iPhone bill was $11 more than usual. There were no changes in my calling or data activity, so I looked at the long, long list of “usage charges,” like the regulatory cost recovery charge, city utility users surcharges, federal universal service charge, county 911 service fee, state 911 service fee, WA state telecom tax, city telecom tax, and city district telecom tax.
No changes there, either.
Then, at the very bottom of the pages-long bill, under “Mobile Purchases & Downloads Charges,” I spotted the $10.94 subscription to “Horoscopegenie Alert,” allegedly purchased March 4 from “WiseMediaUS.” A 1-800 number for them appeared on my bill, but I was wary of any contact with them.
Instead, I immediately called AT&T customer service and asked what in the name of Nostradamus was going on. I assured them that no one else has access to my phone, and I that I did not buy this service.
The rep was sympathetic. From the fluid way he went on to explain and to quickly remove the charge from my bill, it was very clear that AT&T is getting a lot of calls like mine.
According to his explanation, “Horoscopegenie Alert” is one of many third-party services for which AT&T handles the billing. He patiently explained that I had probably given my phone number to a website and that their terms of service included a subscription to…
“Nope,” I said.
He swiveled quickly to a more plausible explanation. Had I received a text message offering this service?
Yes, I said. And I had not replied to it.
He did not seem at all surprised by this, and didn’t attempt to explain how it might have been added to my bill without my replying to the text message. (I was also intrigued that while in AT&T’s view I had apparently subscribed to this automatically renewing “service,” I had never received any horoscopes.)
I later discovered that Horoscopegenie Alert is opt-out spam — you must text a reply to them in order to avoid being signed up for a subscription. And I discovered that “WiseMediaUS,” AT&T’s business partner for whom they handle billing, is unfindable via Google. Nice, huh?
The rep not only quickly volunteered to remove the subscription and charge from my account, he suggested that I use a free AT&T service that blocks text-message based subscriptions from being added to your account. Want it? All you have to do is call AT&T and ask.
If you receive any unwanted text messages from strange vendors, don’t ignore them! Check your bill, call A&T, and get free subscription-blocking. They’re suspiciously eager to offer it. My guess is that AT&T is doing rapid damage-control to back out of this ill-advised third-party billing arrangement.
Hope it works for T-mobile too!
Opt-out signups should be illegal. They are certainly unconscionable. No wonder ATT was eager to accommodate you. I’ve forwarded your comments to my “friends and family”. Thanks, Karen.
Oddly enough I received this text today with an option to stop the texts by replying “Stop”. I was leery of even responding to it thinking I would be opening a door for many more of the same spam texts so I did a google search and found this article. For those in the same boat, I replied with the stop request and received confirmation, now I just have to wait for the next bill to make sure there are not any additional charges. Thanks for putting this out there for all to see!
I think this issue is going to emerge as a major business story about AT&T and bad business decisions it has made in terms of choosing business partners. I’ve spoken with a few other people who have received these unsolicited opt-out text messages for AT&T-billed subscription services. The problem is not that you continue to receive spam if you don’t reply — it’s that you get billed for the spammers’ unwanted “services” — by AT&T.
Spam text messages can sure be annoying. Less than two weeks ago Walmart had to issue a fraud alert due to a large number of messages being sent offering gift cards. The Walmart messages were not limited to ATT customers, but also T-Mobile and probably others. According to a CNN Tech article published today, N.A. carriers have “deployed a centralized spam-reporting service backed by GSMA.” But without an streamlined method for reporting spam texts (current methods require you to enter the perp’s phone number separately) and killer Content Based SMS Spam Filtering it might not be as effective, and therapeutic, as reporting for the world to see: http://canthespam.org/report-sms-spam.
I’m not always clear about the technology that underlies spam campaigns, but I sat up and took notice when I realized that AT&T was doing the heavy lifting for the spammers by handling their billing! Thanks for pointing out the CNN article by Amy Gahran on reporting text spam. For my blog readers, here’s the link: http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/19/tech/mobile/text-spam-gahran/index.html
When I got this text, I googled this, and replied with a stop. And I STILL got a $10 charge (since removed.) The lady at A T and T said that it’s possible I accidentally entered my name in their database, which I don’t believe for a second. A T and T makes money of these scams, so perhaps that is why they are not more proactive about these things. Anyway people, be careful, and always check your bill.
Thanks for experimenting and sharing the results — which are pretty alarming. I do not plan to reply to spammers, even if the reply is “STOP.” My plan is to simply check my AT&T bill, call AT&T to have any text-spam charges removed, and make them see the customer service cost of fielding those calls and canceling those charges. Our mantra here seems to be “check your bill!” In these days of auto-pay, I wonder: How many people actually go over a bill, line by line? These third-party charges are buried way at the bottom of the paper or electronic bill, so you don’t see them until you’ve been numbed by all the little taxes and surcharges.
Rob – I got one from MobibroIQ for “Fun Facts” (from number 584-97) for 9.99/month. Did not reply at all and called AT&T, who advised me to reply ‘STOP’ (even after I told them that some folks with the same issue advised against replying at all) and said they cancelled the charges. I also requested they put a block on mobile purchases, which they said was done. I then went to the AT&T website and logged into my account and checked on the ‘Mobile Purchaes’ page and I see a different purchase for SayNow Alerts for 9.99! I’m hoping it’s the same charge and that they have removed it but it isn’t yet reflected in my Mobile Purchaes page. If I check there tomorrow and it shows up I’m going to call back and read them the riot act. From what I’ve read, the carriers get a cut of the action (as much as 30%) so don’t expect that they’re looking out for your interests. And it’s not just AT&T… I hear Verzon and the other carriers are doing the same thing.
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This story is exactly what happened to me when I saw my bill with AT&T. Anyways…the rep was nice about removing it. I guess there is more to that though from reading this story. Appreciate the notice.
I received the same Horoscopegenie Alert, then billed for 9.99 monlthy. After i spoke to att, the rep. removed the charge and a block was added to my account.
I then FILED A COMPLAINT WITH THE FCC at http://esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm It was easy and i encourage all other victums to do the same!!!
James, Thank you for the FCC link. I’ll give it a try and blog about what happens!
So, this just happened to me. I say a subscription service called saynow alerts on my bill. I dialed 611 and explained that I had no idea what this was. I spoke to a great rep called Maria, and she refunded both charges of $9.99. I then also had her turn on the ‘free’ Purchase Blocker option on my phones.
I’m glad to hear the the reps are responding quickly to this. Too bad “Purchase Blocker” isn’t the default setting rather than something you have to call and ask for. I’d like it if I could set an alert to email me if my AT&T bill goes over a certain amount. I caught the bogus charges only because I noticed my bill had crept up by $10.