15 August 2008

Reverse Charge SMS: Daylight Robbery

As you should already know, I recently got an iPhone and switched to O2 for my mobile contract. I got my first online bill two days ago and noticed it was more than I thought it should be. I’d not exceeded my call or text allowance. Nor had I exceeded my unlimited data usage either. Was I being screwed by some kind of Jesus Phone Tax? Thankfully not...

After drilling down through five pages of my online bill for more details, I found the charge was for a “Premium Text” sent by 81404 to my mobile on 25 July 2008 at 22:03:18. For the pleasure of receiving this message, I had been charged £1.277 + VAT (i.e. £1.50). I’ve never signed up for anything using my mobile, so this was completely unsolicited. I vaguely remember receiving this message and just deleting it because I assumed it was good old free-to-receive-spam. It definitely didn’t say I’d been charged for receiving it.

I’ve just called O2 to get a refund and the customer service representative suggested I could have “mistyped a number” or “accidentally pressed some keys” while the phone was in my pocket. (He even told me that he knows how easy it is to do this because he’s done it himself!) I explained that the iPhone doesn’t have any keys and that it would be pretty much impossible to send a text message to 81404 by accident, so he was a bit stumped for ideas and put me on hold.

When he came back, he told me the name of the company who had sent the message and gave me a number for them so that I could ask for a refund and said that there was nothing more he could do because I’d entered into a contract with this other company! I explained again that I’d not requested the message and that my contract was solely with O2, who were taking the money from my bank account. He replied with the call-centre-classic: “I’m sorry you feel that way.” To which I replied that it wasn’t a case of how I was ‘feeling’ and that it was fact. He eventually admitted that I was right about O2 taking the money from my account (albeit on behalf of this other company) but still said there was nothing more he could do.

After getting off the phone, I did a quick search and found I’m not the only one who has been ripped off by this scam. Here are some links to others in the same boat:

After searching PhonepayPlus, the regulators for products and services that are charged to users’ phone bills or pre-pay accounts, for 81404 I know the number belongs to:

Tanla Mobile Ltd
39 Charing Cross Road
Tel: 08719 180 999

The O2 guy told me it was for a service called SineQuiz which I guess they might operate. Both the PhonepayPlus and Tanla Mobile’s offices are closed right now but I’ll definitely be calling them next week – and I’ll be using Tanla Mobile’s London office number (0207 494 5600) rather than calling their 0871-RIP-U-OFF number!

I can’t believe this is allowed to happen. Can you imagine turning up at someone’s house with a letter and charging them £1.50 for it without giving them the option of refusing it altogether? Mobile technology has failed me. It should not be possible to get charged a premium rate for merely receiving a text message.

Update: 5 September 2008 (14:04)
I eventually managed to find out how this happened and actually got a refund. Read more in my next post here: Reverse Charge SMS: Refund Received

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I saw a demonstration on that scam on TV (the real hustle)

pretty easy and take like 2mn

the demo was a guy in a coffee shop stealing the cell phone from someone pocket, inserting the code, and putting back the phone in the pocket without being seen.

But wait it's worst than that, the manipulation they showed on the phone was to manipulate the redirect/transfer call (sorry don't remember well) that was causing to call a special surcharged number each time you dial a number.

So maybe you should check your phone to see if no other config has been changed, because the main problem with the iPhone is that even locked you can easyly jailbreak it, which is good when you want to jailbreak it for yourself but very bad when someone gets his hand over your phone.

more infos, those 2 videos should help people get more carefull about their cell phone as those scams are pretty nasty

The Text Message Trap

The Premium Phone Swindle

the last one is outrageous and very hard to detect :(

Thanks for the info zwetan.

It's definitely not the Premium Phone Swindle because all my calls are absolutely fine. I always keep my phone in my pocket when I'm out and about and I never lend it to strangers. So unless one of my friends is screwing me, I don't think it's the Text Message Trap either.

The company who sent the message does seem legit so I'll just have to hope that they do the right thing and cough up the money...

Well it is a Jesus Phone. Maybe it's just a collection for the big guy? Try and get a refund and he may smite you!

Interesting that they're still sending unwanted texts. They claimed it was due to some error with some promotion that they'd run when they refunded my charge. It's certainly not necessary for anyone to get hold of your phone to start receiving reverse charge text messages.

No one was the least bit interested when I attempted to get some changes to stop the problem happening in the future. Unless one phone company does something, there's no reason for any others to. The industry body is a joke. Ofcom weren't the least bit interested. My MP rattled a few cages but only managed to get some wishy washy non-letters in response to his.

I kind of lost momentum when attempting to move recently, but still plan to see if I can get trading standards interested. Since the only contract you have is with your phone supplier, not with a company you have never contacted, I think they may well have something to say. Vodafone certainly paid up (gesture of good will of course!) and agreed to provide free itemised bills rather than push the issue too much.

Good luck with your refund!


I too was the recipient of the same text message at 2229 hours on 25 July and was charged for the privelege at £1.27 plus vat.

It too was unsolicited. These wizzes are obviously making a packet out of us techno phobes

I did text STOP in reply which cost me a further 10 pence and do not appear to have received any further problems.

Did you get a refund n the end?

Anonymous, Yes, I did get a refund in the end and also know how this happened. I'll be posting an update to all this hopefully later on today.

According to a recent comment on my blog T-Mobile do allow you to block these reverse charge SMS messages. Might be worth investigating.