How to deal with Scam Text Charges

If you are unfortunate enough to fall foul of unsolicited third party charges on your phone bill, you will almost certainly need to take action yourself. You may try contacting your phone network, but they are very unlikely to be supportive, and that is likely to waste valuable time.

Your first step should be to prevent further charges. Usually these charges take the form of a weekly “subscription”. The texts you have received should be telling you to text “STOP” to a given five digit number (shortcode). Alternatively there will be a phone number which can be called at standard rates (a number starting with 01, 02 or 03). You should either send the STOP text or call the number (these numbers are only required to be manned during working hours, so bear this in mind). Your phone will probably warn you that you will be charged for sending the STOP text. You will, but the charge won’t be more than 15p.

Before seeking a refund, it can be a good idea to register your complaint with the regulator – The Phone-paid Services Authority. A complaint can be lodged online here: https://psauthority.org.uk/for-consumers/report-an-issue

Within a few working days, you should get an email back with a complaint reference. You can include this complaint reference in the subject line of your emails, and copy the emails to reportinformation@psauthority.org.uk so that PSA get updates on your case. This can sometimes help convince service providers that you are serious about recovering your money. Don’t be misled though. Some unscrupulous people will tell you that PSA are an Ombudsman or a dispute resolution service. They are not. They will add your complaint to their database, and if they receive enough complaints about a particular company they may “investigate”. Such investigations can take more than a year and rarely result in refunds for consumers. If you want to be refunded you will have to take action yourself!

You then need to contact the “service provider” to ask for a refund, using the number given in the text. Before calling it’s a good idea to work out EXACTLY how much money has been taken. Some bills quote the charges excluding VAT, so make sure you include VAT in the amount you claim. For example a £3.75 charge on your bill, if quoted excluding VAT will actually amount to £4.50.

It’s a good idea, when you phone to ask for the service provider’s email address and deal with them in writing.

Remember that under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, the burden of proof rests with the service provider and not with you. You don’t have to prove you didn’t subscribe, they have to prove that you did! Tell them that you want a full refund of all the charges made to your account. Sometimes “service providers” try to use technical terms to bamboozle you. They will say that the charging method used is “approved”. Forget the technicalities. What matters in UK law is whether you gave informed consent to the charges.

Different companies will respond in different ways to this request. If you haven’t already given us details of your case, please let us know of your experiences so that we can build up our intelligence of which companies play fair and which don’t. Many of the slightly more reputable companies will accept that you never used their service and simply proceed to make a refund by one of the mechanisms listed below. The reality is that, because it often takes weeks for consumers to notice these charges on their bills, by paying refunds they avoid complaints. This results in fewer complaints about their ‘service’ and consequently they are able to operate for longer before being closed down.

If a refund is agreed, it is unlikely that the money will be returned to your phone account. More likely, it will be paid in one of the following ways.

  • By a Post Office text message, which you can take to a Post Office to receive a cash payment. (a sort of text-based postal order”
  • Via your Paypal account
  • directly to your bank account (the downside of this is that you have to give a company that you don’t trust your banking details).

What to do if a refund is refused.

If your initial request for a refund is turned down, you will need to look at the reasons given. What evidence has been provided that you knowingly consented to the charges? Have they given specific details and screenshots of the method of “subscription”, or just a statement that you must have clicked on an advert in order to subscribe?

This letter is typical of the ways that companies try  to fob off consumers who complain, without providing any evidence that the charges were lawful:

Hello,

The service joined is Mobidoo, a Network approved PayForIt service

The service has been entered from browsing the internet and clicking on a banner advert which opened the site, then the on-screen prompts where clicked which lead to the charge. The billing is PayForIt which is a mobile billing gateway approved by all Network operators.

The product adheres to the PFI framework and any payment taken from PFI requires interaction from the mobile device in order to set up a payment or subscription, in any case,

In your case, the payment was taken across the cellular data connection 3G/4G and during this connection type your mobile network liaises with ourselves, your network identifies your account and the payment is set up between the us the third party and your network.

We can confirm with access logs that the mobile device below accessed the Mobidoo site and it did so by leaving behind some information such as the device type known as a User Agent which can only be accessed upon a device browsing our pages.

We are unable to share the above mentioned information and I.D’s over this platform as it would be a security breach, furthermore the information would be encrypted so you wouldn’t have the software nor licences/agreement to decrypt. You can contact the PSA and ask them to act on your behalf if you are not satisfied with an outcome, as they are the Ombudsman who regulate this industry.

As part of your consumer rights to cancel and receive a refund for Mobidoo started the moment your initial entry SMS Message was received and ends exactly 14 days from the day you were delivered the below text.

<screenshot showing subscription text message>

As you can see above the service was initiated on your handset on 7th September 2019 and then cancelled, when you sent a STOP message from the handset on 30th December 2019. (Please see snippet below)

  < screenshot showing text messages sent>

I hope this resolves your query.

Kind regards,

Not only does this letter fail to provide the information required to prove that there was consent to a subscription, but it completely misrepresents the role of PSA. PSA are NOT an “Ombudsman”, nor will they “act on your behalf”. These are lies intended to trick you into making a complaint to an organisation that will not intervene in individual disputes. Please don’t fall for this trick – if you want a refund you will have to fight for it yourself.

The letter makes an excuse for not being able to show you the evidence of subscription which would be vital for them to show that the charges are lawful. Of course you are entitled to see this evidence. One way of obtaining it would be to make a Subject Access Request under GDPR. If the handset involved in the “subscription” belonged to you, then this is personal data which you can insist on seeing.

 

Unless very detailed information has been provided, write back to them asking for the following information:

  • Screenshots of the subscription workflow where you were alleged to have signed up for this service.
  • A description of what the service you are supposed to have subscribed to provides? Is this a newsletter, access to a web portal?
  • Any evidence that after supposedly signing up for the service, you actually used it
  • The complete web server log of the subscription, including the User Agent strings containing all device details (browser, device type, device IP address) together with dates and times.
  • If the subscription started on or after 1st November 2019, auditable proof that the verification process compatible with the PSA Special Conditions imposed on that date were complied with.
  • Full company details of the company operating the service, country of registration, full name of company, company number and registered company address.
  • Details of the Accredited Payment Intermediary(API) which handled the payment
  • Details of the company’s disputes procedure, including any ADR scheme you can refer the matter to if they fail to provide a full refund.

Evidence that SMS messages regarding the alleged subscription were sent to your phone are not evidence of consent. To prove consent, the service provider needs to show that you knowingly agreed to their subscription charges. This means they need to show your “journey” through the subscription process, screenshots of what you would have seen at the time of subscription and evidence that, at some point, you used the service you were paying for. (No court would believe that you knowingly signed up for a service and never used it)

If proof of a subscription is supplied and the service was used, you will find it much more difficult to pursue a refund. Talk to us and we’ll take a look. However, cases like this are rare.

What if they still won’t refund

If you’ve reached the end of the road with the service provider, it may be worth contacting the Level 1 provider for the service, to see whether they can help.  This can be particularly useful when dealing with overseas service providers, where legal action to obtain a refund can be fraught with difficulty. If you don’t know the name of the Level 1 supplier, contact us for help. We will need to know the five digit shortcode used by the service that has taken your money.

Sometimes companies refuse to co-operate and provide the information you are seeking. In such cases you will need to consider using the Small Claims procedure. This is the “nuclear option” and we only advise using it after exhausting other routes. However, it costs nothing to start the process with a Letter Before Action (LBA) and sometimes that is enough.

The LBA is an essential first step in the Small Claims procedure. It forms part of the pre-action protocols for Civil Procedures. A failure by either party to observe these protocols is likely to severely weaken their position in court. In particular, both parties should share their evidence at this stage. If, up to this point, the service provider has failed to produce evidence of consent, their legal advisers should advise them to do so at this stage. A court is likely to take a dim view if the service provider produces evidence of consent to charge in court, which wasn’t previously provided in response to a LBA.

If a company obstinately refuses to provide the information you are asking for, then you will need to decide whether it’s worth starting a claim through Moneyclaim Online. We strongly recommend that you contact us before doing this so that we can explain the process and to pros and cons of proceeding this way.