We've come a long way since SMS subscription content such as Jamster's torturous Crazy Frog ringtone, but that doesn't mean out-of-control third party mobile charges are a thing of the past. According to the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, more than one in ten Australians has likely experienced third party bill shock - costing consumers up to $20 million in the last six months alone.
The findings are a result of ACCAN's April survey of third party service use by Australian mobile owners. Over two thousand respondents were polled, with 12% confirming that they'd been charged for a third party purchase within the previous six months.
What's a third party charge?
If you're confused as to what a 'third party charge' actually is - or how it can be applied to your bill - you're not alone: 49% of surveyed phone owners were also unaware that non-telco companies can charge services to a mobile account.
When we talk about a third party service, we usually mean one of three things: direct carrier billing (when the cost of an authorised purchase is added to your mobile bill), mobile premium services (high-cost subscription SMS content, such as the aforementioned Crazy Frog), and 190 voice and video calls charged on a per-minute basis.
Things can be charged to your mobile account include voting for a reality TV show contestant, buying an app or game, or entering a competition. Which is fine if you fully understand how you'll be charged, and just what the cost will be: but according to ACCAN, only two thirds of account holders being billed for these charges felt they'd been adequately informed before buying.
ACCAN survey results
37% of respondents who had experienced recent third party charges felt that they hadn't fully consented to, or understood, the fees being applied to their account. 22% 'did not know' how the additional charge came to be on their bill, while 18% either didn't know who was charging their account, or couldn't remember.
Unsurprisingly, attempts to unsubscribe from premium third party services weren't always successful. Of survey participants who had received a confirmation SMS from a company regarding a third party charge, 71% still found charges on their bill even after responding with 'STOP'.
The demographic most likely to rack up surprise charges is, as always, those of us in the 16 to 24 age bracket. Perhaps the folly of youth also explains why, despite the annoyance of third party bill shock, only three quarters of respondents who experienced these fees requested a refund (and only 6% lodged complaints with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman).
Help! I've been charged!
If you've discovered an unexpected charge on your phone bill, you may feel it's pointless to dispute it (or, in the case of accidentally opting in to a service, that the charges won't be refunded). But if surprise fees are seeing your mobile costs rise, it's time to put your foot down.
Customers who have subscribed to premium services can usually cancel by texting 'STOP' to the source of the messages. If this doesn't work, you'll need to treat the provider like a scam SMS service; luckily, we've outlined how to deal with dodgy SMS senders in our guide here.
Your next move is to contact your mobile phone provider to dispute the charges directly, and to block these services from charging content to your bill. Concerned about making an official compliant? Head to our guide to getting what you want from telco complaints.
Finally, if your provider can't assist, you can escalate things to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. And if you'd like to have your say about increasing consumer protections for Aussie phone owners, you can also leave a comment on the current Mobile Premium Services Code here, before July 27.
Woman holding phone image via Pexels