Missed call marketing

Returning that 'missed call' could prove expensive.
Learn more
  • Updated:15 Jan 2008

01.What is it?

Mobile phone

The 'missed call' scam is a marketing tactic which tries to shift the cost of a telemarketing call to the consumer – whether or not they want to hear about the promotion.

The scam starts with a call to your mobile phone which rings off before you have a chance to answer. A missed call message is left on your phone. If you choose to call the number back you are put through to a pre-recorded message advising you that you have won cash or a cash-equivalent prize.

To collect the prize you are directed to ring a premium rate 190 number (minimum charge $2.97 per minute). However, once you’ve called the number it can take five minutes before the ‘prize code’ is revealed. That’s about $15 on call time.

A similar scam involves sending friendly or flirtatious text messages – to ascertain the identity of the sender, the recipient may unknowingly engage in a text message exchange at premium SMS rates.

Missed calls and text messages like this are a form of annoying spam, and some consumers – potentially vulnerable consumers – including children – are ripped off.

What we're doing

Choice was first alerted to the ‘missed call’ rip-off early this year and wrote a letter of complaint to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) expressing concern about the lack of regulatory response.

In September 2006 ACMA announced it would launch an investigation into this form of marketing in the context of the Spam Act 2003. It has asked the two companies to cease using ‘missed call’ marketing whilst it carries out the investigation.

In July 2007 ACMA handed down a $150,000 penalty, the largest issued under the Spam Act, to DC Marketing Europe for sending messages that did not properly identify the sender, did not contain a function to unsubscribe, and without obtaining the recipient’s consent.

"This action against DC Marketing does not represent the completion of ACMA’s investigation into missed call marketing activities," ACMA said in a letter to CHOICE.

"To our knowledge, there has been no further missed call marketing activity since we took action against the companies concerned in August 2006."

What you can do

If you receive a ‘missed call’ or a text message from a number you don’t recognise – do not call or message the number back. Look out for phone numbers beginning with 190 or SMS numbers starting with 19 – these numbers are premium numbers and can be very expensive.

You can find out more at ScamWatch: Missed calls & text messages from unknown numbers.

If you’ve been a victim of this form of marketing you can complain to ACMA.

Remember to send a copy of your complaint to campaigns@choice.com.au.

Keep up to date with our work on this issue - subscribe to CHOICE Campaigns Update (eNews).



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