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Premium SMS warning

CHOICE says it has received reports of children being targeted by premium SMS providers

24 February 2014

Parents should be on the lookout for dodgy guerilla marketing teams who are reportedly pushing premium SMS services on children as young as 14 on their way home from school.

CHOICE has uncovered evidence that one premium SMS service, "Ask Teddy", distributed wristbands and other freebies to children just 50 metres from high school gates in Queensland. CHOICE has seen the advertising material, which included wristbands featuring a teddy bear.

"The use of the cute cartoon teddy bear imagery on the wristbands is something that appeals directly to kids. It is particularly disturbing that the wrist bands are asking children to disclose their personal information and location to an unknown phone number," says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

CHOICE is concerned that a child may not understand the implication of texting the 19 number that appears on the wristbands, and may not realise that they be charged for a premium SMS service.

The text on the wrist band 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."

"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 19SMS numbers incur charges."

 "If you do find charges incurred by persons under 15 years old, you should contact your phone provider and request a full refund," says Mr Godfrey.

Premium SMS services are covered by the Communication Alliance Industry Code with "Section 3.1.20 Advertising to children" stating, a content supplier must:

(a) 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

(b) 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.

Telco agreements with third party premium SMS companies state that they need to comply with the Mobile Premium Services Code.

CHOICE top tips to avoid premium SMS bill shock

  1. Contact your mobile phone carrier and ask them to block premium SMS numbers.
  2. Check your mobile phone usage regularly online.
  3. If you notice any irregularity on your bill, contact your mobile phone carrier immediately.
  4. 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.

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