Unknowingly accepting high subscription charges

2016-03-02 11:22
Lyse Comins

Lyse Comins (File)

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Pietermaritzburg - Consumers must be vigilant when surfing the Internet as a couple of clicks on pesky pop-up banners can seemingly result in annoying data subscription charges that can cost up to thousands of rands.

I regularly receive complaints from consumers about exorbitant cellphone or 3G modem data bills and the story-lines are usually similar — cellphone network operators or wireless application service providers (WASPs) that provide daily data content, such as games and photographs, for a fee claim the user either consumed the data or subscribed to services.

But consumers are outraged at the high bills, adamant that their Internet surfing habits have not changed and that they have not knowingly signed up for data services.

Such was the case with Jandre Muller, whose 2Gigabyte 24-month Vodacom data contract bill shot up from R109 a month to R1 409,01 in December after he was billed R1 140,36 for “content services”. He was also billed R1 659,01 in January after another “content services” charge of R1 359,66 was raised. His account was debited for a total of R2 580,02 in disputed charges.

Muller complained to Vodacom, which referred him to the Wireless Application Service Providers Association (Waspa) to lodge a complaint since the disputed charges had been levied by its member, Odori Tech, which sells subscriptions to pictures, games and adult content.

Muller said he filed a request to unsubscribe and a complaint on Waspa’s website but he was unhappy when he received a message that a partial refund had been offered but with no further feedback regarding the dispute.

“I am still awaiting proof of my subscription request, proof of subscription, proof of accepting terms and conditions and proof of permission to bill my data service provider account,” Muller complained.

I raised the issue with Waspa and Odori Tech, asking what had gone wrong.

A spokesperson for Odori Tech said the company had proof that the consumer had clicked on a banner that appeared on an adult website, which Muller said was news to him.

“Clicking on the banner which advertises adult-content services led the user to Odori Tech’s premium adult content site. On this site the user clicked the call to action button, which has the pricing information, ‘subscription R50/day’, directly adjacent to it,” he said.

“Clicking on the call to action button at that stage does not subscribe the user to the service. In line with local regulations, the user then had to complete a network-hosted ‘confirmation step’. This means the user was presented with another page, hosted by Vodacom which again states that by proceeding, the user will be subscribed to the service at R50 per day.

“The user clicked on the ‘accept/ proceed button’ and completed the double opt in,” he said.

He added that Muller had been sent a “welcome” SMS stating he had subscribed, together with the price and opt-out instructions.

“In the absence of any technical or regulatory irregularities with this subscription, Odori Tech is not expected by regulation or the network to provide a refund,” he said.

“We have, however, as a gesture of goodwill, arranged a full refund of the total amount spent by the user.

“Payment of the goodwill refund does not constitute admission of any wrongdoing or breach of conduct by Odori Tech.”

He added that the opt-in process was fully compliant with Waspa’s code of conduct and that it was “technically impossible” for a consumer to be subscribed without opting in twice.

However, Muller said that as a rule he tried to get away from any unwanted websites as fast as possible.

“It is more than possible that I clicked on the wrong button in my haste to get away from the site. I do, however, still feel that the service providers can adopt a more rigorous process before subscribing, like an activation code or e-mail or password,” he said.

Waspa general manager Ilonke Badenhorst said the decision to grant a refund was at members’ discretion.

“If the member can prove the subscription via logs and network double opt-in records, then any refund provided is done so as a goodwill gesture,” she said.

However, she said consumers could escalate complaints and an independent adjudicator would rule on the case.

For more information or to file a complaint visit http://waspa.org.za.

Send your consumer issues to consumer@3i.co.za.

Once subscribed to data services consumers can unsubscribe by:

•Following the welcome SMS instructions to unsubscribe.

•Replying to the welcome SMS with the unsubscribe keyword provided or using keywords like ‘stop’, ‘cancel’, ‘unsubscribe’, ‘end’ or ‘quit’.

•Following the instructions to unsubscribe from the subscription service contained in reminder SMS.

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