FTC: T-Mobile Customers Paid for Spam

Spam sucks.

There’s just no denying that statement, but as a society, we’ve worked pretty hard to fight the scourge of pests, crooks, and criminals, developing sophisticated filtering and blocking technologies in order to protect those of us who don’t realize the devastation that can be caused by a single mouse click. And we’ve had mixed success in the war on spam. Government agencies and technology companies work hard every day to identify and take down the botnets that churn out spam like a never ending sausage. Some days, we win some, and others we lose some.

ISPs and other service providers work hard, too, to ensure that their users aren’t put in harm’s way by the disease that can be likened to the e-version of the plague. And while they’re not always successful in blocking spam, their intentions are honorable. But as the old adage goes, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. And when you’re actually profiting off your customers by the very spam that the rest of us work so hard to combat, then there’s a special word reserved for you that should never be said in the presence of polite company.

T-Mobile is a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG, and it’s the world’s fifteenth largest mobile phone service provider, and the fourth largest in the US market, and the company has had its problems of late. The company that tried to shake the image of big corporate by marketing itself as the ‘un-carrier’ is on the US Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) naughty list, and if the allegations are true, then there should be a great big lump of coal waiting for them on Christmas day.

According to Time.com, the FTC – which is suing T-Mobile – the carrier allowed their customers to be billed for unwanted premium SMS services. You know the kind. Joke of the day, flirting tips, celebrity gossip and daily horoscopes. The kind of crap that not only clogs our brains, but it also drains our wallets. The FTC contends that T-Mobile made hundreds of millions of dollars by enjoying a cut of the typical $9.99 monthly fee for subscribing to these services, and that they not only participated in the madness, they made it worse by burying the charges in customer bills.

According to Huffington Post, “When [a] customer viewed his or her bill online, the charge was buried under vague and inscrutable categories like ‘Usage Charges’ and ‘Premium Services,’” and that “If the T-Mobile subscriber printed out the entire bill, the charge did not appear until page 123. Even then, it said nothing about trivia texts.” Time.com points out that “Wireless carriers often agree to include third-party charges in customers’ monthly phone bills (AT&T customers, for instance, can pay for Beats Music as part of their cell phone plan). However, sometimes these charges are not authorized by customers and are hidden deep within their bills, a practice known as ‘cramming.’”

Several of these ‘cramming’ companies targeted T-Mobile users, and yet the carrier failed to do anything about it, “even after there were indications of fraud, according to the FTC, which says up to 40 percent of the customers who were charged for these services asked for a refund. The FTC argues that figure should have indicated fraudulent activity.”

T-Mobile has really mishandled this one in the way the company has responded to its customers. In addition to making the information very difficult to find on their bills, Time.com reports that “The carrier also refused refunds to some customers or told them to try to get their money back from the scammers, according to the FTC.”

Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Fraud, says that “it’s wrong for a company like T-Mobile to profit from scams against its customers when there were clear warning signs the charges it was imposing were fraudulent. The FTC’s goal is to ensure that T-Mobile repays all its customers for these crammed charges.”

The war on spam is hard enough, and cell phones are expensive enough, without having to look over your shoulder at the one who’s supposed to protect you. We can only hope that there’s more to the action than simply forcing the company to repay its ill-gotten gains. If there’s any truth to the allegations, it would be nice to see a hefty fine levied against the carrier.

And hopefully, consumers will take action and show T-Mobile exactly what happens when you try to pull the wool over your customers’ eyes.

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