Like a good daughter, I went and got my 72-year old mother a cell phone. I would teach her how to use it, and she would always be able to call. I added her to our family plan with Sprint. Little did I know that she would soon be the victim of text messaging spam and that SHE WOULD BE CHARGED FOR THAT VERY SAME TEXT MESSAGING SPAM!
It all started out innocently enough. Sprint issued my mother a new telephone number. Soon after, she received a text message that went something like this:
SMS.ac Fact: It is estimated that on average, there are 61,000 people airborne over the USA at all times. True or False? Stop? Reply STOP FACT
I looked at this and immediately thought to myself,
- first there was fax spam,
- then there was email spam,
- now there is text messaging spam.
They must dial random numbers and see if people respond. I told my mother to ignore it because the absolute worst thing you can do is respond to email spam, especially unsolicited email spam, and this “sms.ac fact” appeared unsolicited on my mom’s phone.
My daughter was in the room and she said, “Mom, I already responded “STOP.”
I told her that proved my point, the messages had obviously not stopped.
What you know about email spam does not extend to text messaging spam as I soon found out after hours of phone calls.
She received some more text messages and I deleted the slew of them without looking at them. My mom couldn’t even use the phone to call my cell phone correctly; there was no way that these were responses to text messages that she sent. (This was confirmed by Sprint. My mother did not send text messages.)
Soon, she started receiving more text messages. She told me it was very annoying to have the phone ring all the time and then see this SMS.ac. It even rang in the early morning hours. I finally had time to look into it and I found the following message buried in with other inane messages:
SMS.ac Account Update: you’ve spent $5 at a cost of .25 per msg. To modify your services please visit SMS.ac on the web.
What the heck was this? Another scam for me to put my personal information onto SMS.ac when we had never signed up to SMS.ac in the first place?
I then looked at our first bill, which had just arrived. I wasn’t happy. Here is a list of text messaging charges:
Notice a couple of things. It doesn’t say who the charges are from. Contrary to the SMS.ac text messages, it isn’t in increments of $5, and it isn’t subtotaled as a separate charge. It is mixed in with a credit for activating a new line.
So, after my handy math calculations, I was charged $15.19 and .56 cents of that was tax. But at the very least, I was charged $14.63 from someone for premium text messaging that my mom never used or signed up for.
I was soon on the phone with Sprint. First, I talked to one rep who said that sms.ac was a sister company (another rep told me that was untrue) and put me in touch with the Sprint fraud department. I have never in my life had a harder time getting through to a person because not ONE OF THE OPTIONS FIT MY CASE! Furthermore, there was no way to get to a person; everything was electronic.
Needless to say, I wasn’t in a very good mood after that, and the second rep that I called hung up on me. She was clueless when I tried to tell her that I shouldn’t have to pay for these fees, and when I tried to tell her that I shouldn’t pay the Sprint fees for text messaging on top of the sms.ac fees that had been fraudulently charged, she couldn’t grasp what I was trying to say.
On the third or fourth rep, I finally got the Sprint fees rescinded, but I had to go through SMS.ac itself to get the other fees back. Sprint would shut off my phone if I withheld the text messaging fees.
Furthermore, it was impossible for me to get a complete list of what SMS.ac charged me from Sprint or WHAT THEY WERE PLANNING TO CHARGE ME NEXT MONTH.
I was livid.
I turned off ALL text messaging functionality on my mom’s phone because of this. However, it turns out, in a disaster, the only thing that does work is text messaging. My choice: hours of billing problems because of text messaging versus the possibility of a disaster where text messaging will be needed. As a customer, I shouldn’t have to make this choice. The final pebble on the scale was that my mom probably wouldn’t be able to use the text messaging, even in a disaster, but I could be wrong. And it will take years for this scamming to be fixed.
I finally got in touch with SMS.ac. I was in the process of leaving a message and telling them that I was going to write this whole sordid mess on my blog when someone picked up.
They tried to explain the business model, and I still don’t get it, and frankly, I wasn’t interested in exploring their site to find out more.
I told them my mom was either the victim of identity theft or the phone hadn’t been “cleared” when they reissued the number to my mother. They asked me if I knew of this specific person and mentioned a name. I said that I had never heard of her, and that I had just activated the phone for my mother, and if this billing had been going on for a while, then the person who was still using this service from the web site hadn't shut the service off. I told them that I was going to withhold the funds from Sprint, and they reiterated what Sprint said. They said they would refund the money and they sent me a refund form via email when I gave them my email address.
Well, remember the Sprint fraud division telephone tree hell? We now have the SMS.ac email form hell.
First, the form, issued to username luckygurl1987, who I have never heard of but who was obviously the culprit in this mess as the original signee onto the account, said that you would be only refunded a maximum of 50 text messages. I thought that this was just a form and wouldn’t apply in my case. Boy was I wrong -- at least for now.
Second, while they did have a pulldown for phone number reissued so they must have had this problem in the past, they only allowed for number of text messages received. I had deleted slews of text messages unread. I had no idea how many text messages I had received and they didn’t have any text box to put in additional comments. So I said 100 messages thinking that should cover any new messages that I hadn’t been billed yet, and I followed up with an email that said:
Look, I don't know what you billed Sprint. The Refund Case Number is:xxxxxx. My 72-year old mother's phone was activated on June 17. ALL charges from June 17 onward should be credited to the account.
You should also have a text input field in the refund request box that lets people put in when their phone was activated so you can figure out what was owed. It is impossible for customers to figure that out.
I had the refund go to my husband's paypal; account, firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll be checking it.
This was the emailed response from sms.ac
Thanks for contacting us. At SMS.ac, customer service is our passion so we love hearing from our customers.
In addition to offering daily FREE Messages to send from the SMS.ac website to a mobile phone, SMS.ac offers premium services such as Mobile Friends Network Notifications, smsChannels, smsClubs, Blind Date, and smsRewards Notifications. Premium services are not part of our free service.
During registration, users are asked to read the Terms and Conditions. One cannot continue with registration without agreeing that they have in fact read the Terms and Conditions. This agreement is as follows:
I realize that I am joining a community of mobile phone users. I agree to the T&C's below and service info on the right, especially sections titled “How much does it cost” and “New and modified functionality”. It contains important information regarding messages from community members that can include charges on your mobile phone account. Read it!
If members wish to only use their daily FREE messages and do not want to receive premium messages, which they may be charged for, they can log into their account and opt-out of receiving premium messages at any time.
SMS.ac also provides a mobile command at the end of each premium message, which the user can use to discontinue that type of message. SMS.ac customer support is available 24 hours per day, seven (7) days per week, via telephone, live chat, and e-mail.
Thanks again for contacting us. We hope you consider SMS.ac the next time you are looking for high quality mobile data services.
We value your opinion! Please take a moment to tell us how we’re doing. Click Here!
So, now SMS.ac is telling me that my mother signed up for this service and actually signed the terms and conditions! This is, of course, not true. My mother never signed up for anything to do with her new phone.
They issued a paypal credit of $13, which was received, and Paypal got their .56 cents in fees, so they actually did only refund 50 text messages. So, right now, trying to get this straight,
I am out:
- $14.63 in sms.ac fees for premium text messages;
- .56 cents in taxes on those same fees (which I will never get back because the refund came through Paypal)
- total $15.19
- $13 minus 56 cents in paypal fees.
So my net loss so far is $2.75 IF Sprint actually issued me a credit and I’m not billed anything else from SMS.ac on next month’s bill.
And I am also out hours and hours of my time trying to fix something that was NONE of my or my mom’s doing. My mother is less than pleased with her new phone because of the constant interruptions from these text messages which she kept receiving.
If you have kids or parents or you become a victim yourself, be prepared. They should have some form of “clearing” phone numbers of all previous obligations by date, or they shouldn’t be allowed to bill to those same phone numbers. Period.
I’m sending a copy of this to Sprint, sms.ac, my attorney general, and the Better Business Bureau. Please link to it often to let others know.
Update: Just spent another 45 minutes on the phone with a Sprint rep on a bad connection from India because I sent a link to this post to Sprint since they only allow 1200 characters. The Sprint rep had me verbally go over everything again because he couldn't click the link to read this full explanation of what went wrong. He ALSO THOUGHT THAT SOMEONE HAD SIGNED UP FOR THE SERVICE USING MY MOTHER'S PHONE!
Not only does the customer have to figure things out, but the customer has to tell Sprint how to debug it. I finally got so fed up I told him to trace the number and LOOK AT THE PREVIOUS PERSON'S BILL to see if they had these premium text messaging charges. Finally the rep woke up and said he would investigate and the scenario that I described might be a possibility. It turns out there were more charges on my next month's bill that I haven't seen yet. This is just a nightmare.