Smart consumer: How to stop top-rate texts from eating up your credit
Daily football fixture updates, weekly horoscopes and enough ringtones to drive you mad; all of these and more are available as subscription text services.
Sending or receiving a text from a Premium-Rate Service will cost you up to 80c if it's a 53XXX number but the sky is the limit if the number is 57XXX, for example.
So if you were wondering where your phone credit was disappearing to, now you know.
But what if you have not signed up for such a service but still see your credit disappearing, or a strange five-digit text number appears on your bill? You may have received an unsolicited text or signed up to something without even knowing it.
And, alarmingly, that is pretty easy to do.
You see an advert for a 'free' or 'bonus' or 'no charge' ringtone, joke or weather forecast. You text the number given but fail to see the tiny print where it says that by replying you are entering into a subscription service that costs €5 per week.
Or maybe you respond to an ad for a text competition where entry costs €1.50. You enter but again fail to see the small print, which says you are subscribing to a weekly competition.
In 2009 RegTel, who was then in charge of premium-rate services, received 28,600 queries and 91% of calls related to mobile-subscription services. Remarkably more than one-third of complaints were from people insisting they never subscribed in the first place.
Can you imagine any other scenario where you don't realise that you are buying something?
This is why the Commission for Communication Regulation (ComReg), who took over enforcement of this area under new legislation in July, is currently working on a consultation process on a new code of practice. This will be completed in January 2011 and the rules will be detailed and legally enforceable, as they were not before.
One proposal is that a 'double opt-in' will be introduced. This would mean that if you respond to an advert for a paid text service, you would first receive a text telling you that it is a subscription service and asking if you still want to proceed.
This was introduced in the UK in 2009 and led to a 57% decrease in complaints relating to mobile-subscription services.
In 2009 Irish consumers received 76 million chargeable premium texts costing more than €62m. Unfortunately, 'reverse billing' can be confusing and is open to abuse.
But sending unsolicited texts is an offence -- ComReg has the power to suspend or revoke licences and to issue criminal sections through the court.
And you should always know what you are getting, for how much and that you can cancel the subscription without penalty at any time by texting STOP to the text number given.
But with 78% of Irish customers on pre-pay accounts, it means no regular billing information, so you might be paying without even realising.
So know how to recognise a mobile phone service by its five-digit 'short code'; be wary of 'free' offers; and be aware that many text services are subscription services, so double check the small print.
Don't respond to text messages that you didn't ask for -- legitimate companies don't promote their services this way -- but do share this information with your children, especially if you're paying for their credit!