• Tue
  • Oct 21, 2014
  • Updated: 5:59am

Text message deals have a sting in tail

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 December, 2009, 12:00am

Text messages are so quick and easy to send and read that most people do not think twice about using them - but they can carry a sting in their tail.

Ask the man who was hit with a HK$10,000 bill after signing up for a 'free' friend-seeking service.

Or the one who registered his phone number for a 'free' lucky draw but who ended up with a HK$70 bill for text messages sent to him.

These examples were cited by the Consumer Council yesterday as it warned about the traps of services that can produce rude shocks when subscribers receive their phone bills.

'People may have authorised the receiving of paid messages without realising it,' the head of the council's publicity and community relations committee, Ambrose Ho, said.

Short messaging services fall under the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Ordinance, introduced in 2007 to crack down on junk calls and messages, but the regulator, the Office of the Telecommunications Authority, said the complaints mentioned by the Consumer Council would have to be considered case by case.

One of the traps is an offer of services such as personality tests, IQ tests, friend matching and ringtones advertised as free on websites. But many who sign up do not notice conditions that state they will be sent costly text messages after they leave their mobile-phone numbers online.

Whether the recipients reply to or ignore the messages, they can be charged for them, the council says.

In the first 11 months of this year, the watchdog received 470 complaints about disputes over such charges. One came from a man who signed up for a friend-finding service after receiving a message that he could send texts to potential friends free of charge. He used the service frequently, running up a HK$10,000 bill before realising he was being charged HK$5 per message. After complaining to the council, he still had to pay HK$8,000 to the content provider. Another complainant registered his mobile-phone number online for a free lucky draw. He received several IQ questions every few days through text messages, which he deleted without responding to them - until he saw the HK$70 charge on his bill. He then checked the lucky-draw webpage and noticed there was a clause at the bottom that said he was charged HK$5 for every SMS sent to him.

Another complainant said his son had received messages advertising Java game downloads and was charged HK$75 for five messages in a month even though he did not download any games.

The council said many information providers advertised their services as free to tempt users into leaving their personal details. But they might only provide, say, the first three messages free and charge for later ones.

One provider sent 80 text messages to a user in an hour and charged HK$5 for each of them. Another sent 700 messages in two days and charged HK$2,128.

Mobile-service provider PCCW said it provided a platform for communication between content providers and users. When any discrepancies arose regarding pay-text messages, users should deal with content providers directly, a spokeswoman said.

Ofta said mobile-phone users should think twice before responding to marketing messages. They should read the service terms before confirming a subscription and check mobile-phone bills for irregular charges.

If in doubt, they should contact phone service providers or content providers immediately.

Getting the message?

The number of complaints over SMS charges

2006: 85

2007: 244

2008: 608

2009*: 470


Subscribers can be hit by hidden charges

If they read advertising SMSs

If they reply to advertising SMSs

If they sign up to websites that claim to offer 'free' services

Source: Consumer council


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