Questioning your phone bill can pay off05 Sep 11 10:30AM EST |
The recent experience of a friend is a timely reminder to give your phone bill a once-over before you pay it.
After noticing that his monthly mobile bill was higher than normal, my mate Marty took a closer look and saw a section he’d never seen on previous bills. It was called 3rd Party Purchases. It included a series of items totalling $35.50, billed by a company called Dialect Interactive. The costs were incurred in a single day, late at night and in quick succession.
Marty was at a loss as to what the costs were for so he called Telstra customer service. The customer service representative was helpful, saying it would probably have been for something he had downloaded, such as an app. Not having ever downloaded a paid app, Marty asked for more details, to no avail. However, Telstra’s customer service rep said the company would waive the costs “this time, but not if it happened again”.
While thankful for the waiving of the $35.50, Marty decided to do some Google detective work. He stumbled upon a consumer forum that detailed almost identical experiences. It turns out that Dialect Interactive is a company that sends you SMS messages with the aim of selling you ring tones. That’s when the penny dropped. Marty did remember getting an unsolicited SMS marketing message several weeks prior, but he says he definitely didn’t make any purchases.
It seems to work this way. Dialect Interactive sends you an SMS which, if mistakenly activated, bills you for 3rd Party Purchases. Marty’s experience, along with others who have been billed by Dialect Interactive, makes me wonder why Telstra allows Dialect Interactive to use its service for unsolicited direct marketing.
If you get these SMS marketing messages from a number with a 19 prefix, you can generally presume they’re trying to sell you ring tones. You can usually unsubscribe quite simply by replying with the word STOP. The issue here however, is that the unsolicited and potentially confusing nature of the SMS messages can lead people to pay for something and be none the wiser.
While it’s good to see Telstra is willing to waive these 3rd Party Purchases if you query them, it would be even better if they didn’t allow this kind of direct marketing through their service. If you have problems with these 19 numbers, you can also contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. A consumer forum I visited also mentioned an industry website – www.19sms.com.au – where you enter the 19 number appearing on your bill to search for details. The site also allows you to unsubscribe.
The marketing methods used by Dialect Interactive are a reminder that phone bills occasionally contain unpleasant surprises. If it doesn’t look right, don’t be afraid to question it.
Have you ever found unexplained charges on your phone bill? What was the outcome if you questioned it?