by Pixeleen Mistral on 16/01/12 at 11:52 pm
"MobChance IQ Fun Facts" ganks phone bills with unauthorized charges
As I prepared to expose a horrific virtual pet abuse scandal in Second Life this afternoon, a pair of SMS messages brought my iPhone to life - and put virtual pets on hold as the prospect of being scammed out of $9.99/month by phone bill ganking scumbags caught my attention.
An operation named Mblox/BuneUS had somehow obtained my mobile phone number and enrolled me - without my consent - in MobChance IQ Fun Facts. Am I now part of an increasingly popular large scale
scam IQ test on the general population? It appears so.
While the messages said I could end the service with a STOP txt or by calling their phone number, a quick search of the interwebs revealed that as soon as you see the first two messages, Mblox/BuneUS has already charged you without consent - a practice known as cramming. I had sent a STOP message, but when I visited the AT&T site it was clear that STOP didn't have any effect - there was already a $9.99 charge on my phone bill.
According to several accounts at scam tracking sites, the call center for BuneLLC is a complete waste of time. These are not the sort of people I want to negotiate with - it was time for a call to AT&T to get the charges reversed, and block the possibility that anyone else could try this stunt.
Yes, the gameifaction of real life continues with big bucks to be made by 3rd parties placing unauthorized charges on phone bills - particularly because the unwary are billed indefinately.
According to DailyFinance, a US Senate report issued in July places cramming charges at over $2 billion/year - and 17 state Attorneys General are calling on a limp FTC to enact rules to curb the practice for both wireless and landline phones. The FTC seems to want to proceed very cautiously - perhaps the revolving door into industry beckons - or is this more a case of regulatory capture? Meanwhile the wireless carriers are thought to have designs on becoming a sort of phone/3rd-party billing hybrid, and so are concerned about creating friction in the billing process setup. This leaves the door wide open for scams.
If the FTC is reluctant, could controlling this sort of fraud be something that even the lobbyist-money-dependent Congress can agree on? It would certainly be more productive than the ill-advised SOPA and PIPA legislation.
But perhaps limiting the opportunity for large scale fraud is too much to ask. Cramming is big business for both those allegedly running scams such as Jason Hope of JAWA.com and for the phone carriers processing the billings. This may explain why the practice persists - as Hamid Shojaee explains at AZDisruptors.com.
With the phone companies pocketing a portion of the charges billed through their systems, and the landline business on the decline, walking away from any sort of revenue appears to be difficult. Perhaps that is why after calling AT&T to get a credit placed on my account for the unauthorized charges, it took a bit of persuading to get the customer service rep to enable "parental controls" on the account so that third parties cannot place charges without my explicit consent.
In a rational world, requiring explicit permission before billing would be the norm, but for whatever reason, there seems to be a reluctance to limit the ability of grifters to scam via phone bills. Have you looked at the details of your phone bill lately? You might be surprised at the games that are being played.