Bill for 'unsolicited' text messages shocks first-time user, 67

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 December, 2009, 12:00am

The 67-year-old man was new to using a mobile phone. He soon got a shock: a HK$1,357 bill for text messages he had never asked to receive.

The man, who prefers not to be named, is just one victim caught out by short messaging service (SMS) charges.

'I don't even know what an SMS is,' he said. 'I won't pay. Just send me to prison.'

He was talking two days after the government started drafting a code of practice for network operators to safeguard people against misleading messages about fees.

The man started using Peoples' mobile service in July, paying HK$29 a month. But on August 21, he started receiving text messages that contained general-knowledge questions. By September, he had received about 200 text messages. In one hour on August 22, he received more than 70 such messages.

It started with him receiving a message - which he has printed out - that said: 'Hello. What is your name?' Then there was another: 'I am Yoyo. What are you doing?'

Subsequently, he received a message telling him he had subscribed to a content service. 'Welcome to SMS question and answer game. The user who answers the most questions correctly has the chance to get a trendy gift! Every week three messages are included. Each of them HK$5.' A number is included for inquiries on how to cancel the service.

The messages sent to him asked things such as: 'When did Hong Kong Disneyland open?'

Right after the question, another message comes. Either it says 'Congratulations! You are right! We will add together your points.' Or it says: 'Sorry, you are wrong.'

The mobile user insisted he never replied to any of the messages, but both Peoples and the content provider said records showed he did.

After failing to settle the bill in 11 days, his contract was terminated. Peoples says he has to pay HK$300 for ending the contract before the agreed period of six months.

His case was referred to legislator Wong Kwok-kin, who subsequently managed to secure a refund from the content provider, mTouche.

It agreed on the refund because the man had financial problems, it said. Peoples, on the other hand, continues to press for the HK$300 contract-violation fee.

The network operator did not comment on the case yesterday.

Wong said: 'The code of practice is voluntary. After the topic cools down, network operators may allow [misleading messages to circulate] again.'

He is pressing telecoms watchdog Ofta to review existing laws and plug any loopholes.