01.Parents warned about dodgy premium SMS services
Parents should be on the lookout for dodgy guerrilla marketing teams who are reportedly pushing premium SMS services on children as young as 14 on their way home from school, and asking them to disclose personal information including their name and suburb via SMS.
CHOICE has uncovered evidence that Ask Teddy distributed wristbands (pictured below) and other freebies to children just 50 metres from high school gates in Queensland. The advertising material included wristbands featuring a teddy bear.
The text on the wristband says: “SMS your full name and suburb to 19XX [CHOICE has chosen not to publish the number] to find out what Ted knows about you now".
“The use of the cute cartoon teddy bear imagery on the wristbands is something that appeals directly to kids,” says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey. "It is particularly disturbing that the wristbands are asking children to disclose their personal information and location."
In addition, children may also not understand that each SMS to the premium number costs $4.50.
“It’s alarming that children are being targeted with freebies, promoting SMS services that charge as much as $4.50 per text. It is very easy to rack up an exorbitant bill very quickly, which leads to significant bill shock. Check your phone bill to ensure that no one in your household has been charged for or subscribed to a premium SMS service and educate children that SMS 19 numbers incur charges,” Godfrey says.
“If you do find charges incurred by persons under 15 years old, you should contact your phone provider and request a full refund."
Premium SMS services are covered by the Communication Alliance Industry Code, and telco agreements with third party premium SMS companies state that they need to comply with it. According to the code, a content supplier must:
- not place a premium messaging services advertisement in any publication, show, website, location or any other presentation (in any medium or format) which is specifically and primarily targeted at persons below the age of 15; and
- if the placement, context and content of a premium messaging services advertisement is reasonably likely to attract or encourage a significant number of minors to use that premium messaging service, include a warning to the effect "If you are under 18 you must ask the account holder before using this service" in the advertisement.
While the Ask Teddy wristbands do contain a warning for under 18s, CHOICE believes that the small text size and its positioning does not get Ask Teddy off the hook.
Top tips to avoid SMS bill shock
- Warn your children about the cost of premium 19 SMSes.
- Contact your mobile phone carrier and ask them to block all premium SMS numbers.
- Check your mobile phone usage regularly online.
- If you notice any irregularity on your bill, contact your mobile phone carrier immediately.
- If your child has been conned into signing up to a premium SMS service, file a complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.