Wednesday, March 9, 2011

3rd Party Wireless Scams Are Lurking; Wireless Providers Are Enablers

At one point in time, most people have had a billing problem with their wireless provider. I’ve had a few cell providers over my lifetime of wireless phones, but Verizon takes the cake in what I think is sloppy and maybe even dishonest billing practices.

Many times I’ve had to call Verizon for incorrect charges to my bill, most often for text messages charged to my phone or to my husband’s phone. We are usually within inches of a computer or a phone most times, so texting was never a feature we wanted on our phones and it seemed silly to pay extra for something we would never use. We had our phones blocked from receiving or sending text messages quite some time ago, especially after mystery text message charges appeared on our bill.

Things got worse when we started getting charged for text messages by Verizon, even after the text block was put into place. Trying to get those charges reversed was a pain but Verizon eventually applied the credits, seeing that they couldn’t very well charge us for text messages that their system showed were being blocked.

But today Verizon really topped themselves. They added $9.99 to my cell phone bill for a premium service – a service neither my husband nor I ordered. When I called the Verizon customer service department, I was told that the premium service is a “double opt-in,” meaning that a person can subscribe on the Internet (not necessarily on their cell phone) and a text would go to the cell phone number that was input on the web site to confirm the charge. How then, I asked, could someone approve the charge if my cell phone is blocked from text messages? The answer was that Verizon would block the charge going forward but that the first charge was authorized and I had to pay it. (As I am already angry, this was not the right thing for the customer service agent to say.) Clearly this customer service agent completely missed the point – the charges could not have been authorized by me, as their own text messaging system would not gave allowed the text message to come to me to request approval, nor could I send a text out to approve it. (What part of having all text messages blocked did she not understand?) The customer service agent was unable to comprehend that they had more than one flaw in their system - the approval could not have been given for the premium service, so neither Verizon nor the 3rd party company had the right to charge me, therefore the charge should be removed from my bill.

After demanding to speak to a supervisor and explaining the matter, it became clear to her right away that the charge was incorrect and my account would be credited. The supervisor also agreed that something had to be wrong in the process and she would report it. (I hope she was not just saying this to placate me.) In this case, I believe the blame is twofold: the 3rd party for charging for something that clearly was not approved, and Verizon for not verifying that the 3rd party’s charge is, in fact, valid. It seems in this case, the 3rd party assumed that a “no response” to their text message meant it was OK to process the charge – and that is just plain wrong.

I was shocked to find out that anyone can go on a web site, input YOUR cell phone number and charge a premium service to your wireless account without your knowledge. It's bad enough one has to worry about credit cards numbers being stolen and used fraudulently, now there is another avenue where scammers can try to steal from you. It’s even worse when wireless providers like Verizon are enabling them.

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