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.