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Watch for junk text charges

'Free' ringtones and games may come with $10-a-month bills.

By Teresa Mears Oct 20, 2009 7:27PM

Be sure to scrutinize your cell phone bill carefully. That “free game” you played on Facebook may come with a $10-per-month charge, writes Steve Alexander of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

 

Alexander writes that most people are savvy about Internet scams that involve giving out your personal information on the Internet, which can lead to identity theft.

 

They should be equally cautious about giving out their cell phone numbers before they read ALL the fine print. Otherwise, they may find themselves signed up for an expensive “premium SMS,” or text, service –- in essence, agreeing to pay a company to send them advertising.

 

Alexander writes about a company about which he has received several complaints: SoLow.com, which offers prizes for texting the right number. To play the game, players have to disclose their cell phone numbers.

 

SoLow requires the user to opt in twice, and users can cancel the service by texting the word "stop" to 23687. But users say they didn’t know they were opting in and then couldn’t figure out how to cancel. The company that runs SoLow, SendMe of San Francisco, has said consumers who feel they were misled can call (877) 373-6363 and get refunds.

Premium text services are generating a lot of complaints from customers who say they didn’t sign up for the services but merely took an online IQ test or downloaded a “free” ringtone, Stephen Janis wrote at Investigative Voice.

 

To get the results of the IQ test advertised on Facebook, participants had to give their cell phone numbers. When they did that, they unwittingly were signing up for a $9.95-per-month premium text service from Mobile Messenger. For that, the customer got one piece of text trivia per month, such as “In 2004, a Minnesota state trooper issued a speeding ticket for a motorcyclist traveling 204 miles per hour,” Janis reported.

 

Several readers of his piece commented that their elderly mothers, who could barely operate their cell phones, ended up with bills from services such as these.

 

Janis wrote that it was difficult to track down the service and cancel from the information listed on the cell phone bill, which simply said “premium text service.”

 

After he wrote his post, Mobile Messenger left a comment saying dissatisfied customers could call (800) 416-6129.

 

Smart-phone spam is getting worse, writes Marc Saltzman in The Geek Weekly, and that could be dangerous.

 

He quotes Joe Ridout of Consumer Action, a nonprofit education and advocacy organization, who says the most common smart-phone spam is SMS, or text, which you often can’t delete until you open it, thereby putting yourself at risk. At first, the spam was just selling junk products, but now it sometimes includes identity theft scams or attempts to steal information.

 

Saltzman offers these tips for keeping your phone safe:

  • Complain to your carrier and ask for credit. Some carriers will allow you to block all such messages.
  • Use security software, including a spam filter, antivirus protection and a firewall.
  • Don’t share your number with people from whom you don’t want to get text messages.

 

And, of course, don’t forget to read the fine print when you sign up for “free” products or quizzes that ask for your cell phone number.

 

Related reading:

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