The Great SMS Cramming Game

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.

You didn't ask for MobChance - but we have already billed you by the time you read this

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 and for the phone carriers processing the billings. This may explain why the practice persists - as Hamid Shojaee explains at

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.

It took a call to AT&T to get Mblox/BuneUS out of my bill

32 Responses to “The Great SMS Cramming Game”

  1. hobo kelly

    Jan 17th, 2012

    yeah, this happened to me recently too. at&t cellphones. these charges hit without warning, two of them, for a total of about 20 bucks. they are re-occuring billings too. that 20 bucks would hit every month. and like body thetans on an unclear scientologist, more and more charges can attach themselves also. so I called at&t and they removed all the body thetan charges and set my account so that it requires a special PIN number to be able to charge junk to my phone. one of them was some astrology thing and the other was some fashion blog thing. there was no OWS donating to charities without my concent and no crazy cat ladys scamming cat food for their overly hungry cats. speaking of which, what about this Horrific Virtual Pet Abuse scandle? Are we going to see more animal abuse at the Ravenglass sim? I have heard the complaints of dead cats laying around all over the place. sigh, it could be happening again…

  2. IntLibber Brautigan

    Jan 17th, 2012

    Linden Lab knows how to cram charges on their customers too. I can’t tell you how many months in a row those dicks charged me my annual premium fee.

  3. Miso Susanowa

    Jan 17th, 2012

    yay Pix! Thx for this article. I’ve explained this and gone through it with many people while setting up/modifying their internet connections; scanning their bills and finding these leeches. I’ve had the same response from AT&T before that Hamid did; spending over an hour or more on the phone with a tier of “customer service” reps.

    Yes, you CAN opt-out, but as described, it takes persistent questioning and push to make them do it. “Parental Controls” is a good one; so is “3rd Party Block” and you tell them you know it’s available to stop CRAMMING services.

  4. GG3

    Jan 17th, 2012

    Speaking of scams seems like touch-phone apps are being exposed to download scam apps.

    These are always those app ads you see that say ‘your phone/computer is slow etc’ and prompt to download junkware.

    As far as i know there is no firewall for these phones! Talk about a misplaced touch can download something unpleasant into one’s cell.

  5. Yep

    Jan 17th, 2012

    I have had two texts sent to me that was billed later at the amounts of 4.99 and 6.99 without my permission just by receiving the text.

    Verizon told me that this was legal and that I could opt out after paying the original fee. Verizon was gracious enough (sarcasm) to remove the 4.99 charge but I still had to pay the 6.99 charge.

  6. James Freud

    Jan 17th, 2012

    I love how a gratuitous mention of ‘Second Life’ is crow-barred into an article on a Second Life page who’s articles are never about Second Life anymore.

  7. AM Oderngrl

    Jan 17th, 2012

    So not only are the telcos free of any consequences for giving over info to law enforcement in violation of the Constitution but they are also making money off of fraudulent transactions on our phone bills. Good to know.

    Love the big house and fast cars bit.

  8. Emperor Norton

    Jan 17th, 2012

    The Herald passes up a story on virtual pet ABUSE for this? Right now there a sculpti bots that look like something out of a child’s nightmare SUFFERING and we are wasting time with elaborate phones scams! For shame I say!

    Won’t anyone think of the baby furrys?!!

  9. Reader

    Jan 17th, 2012

    more SOPA, less this

  10. IntLibber Brautigan

    Jan 19th, 2012

    James Fraud,
    Thats because you are a Linden Lab FUD drone who cant admit his employer has an addiction to fraudulent behavior toward its customers. There is an app for that.

  11. Reader

    Jan 20th, 2012

    With SOPA and PIPA delayed nows the time to cover the side show! Anything is better than JLU noise or other boring stories (of late).

    We demand MegaUpload coverage!

  12. IntLibber

    Jan 20th, 2012

    Someone in Anonymous sent me a list of logins to the server from their retaliatory attack…

  13. Mesa

    Jan 22nd, 2012

    Yah actually i thought Pix would haff covered the sopa in regards to our virtual world. Pix, ya could interview a Linden about that matter ? Seek the opinion of some of the major creators about it ?

    Clearly it seems that this more about the large corps and their wish to make more money based on the so called purely speculative pseudo losses. The consumers simply don’t have this money. The so called losses are way more smaller. With all the micropayments opportunity Why a wealthy consumer would bother to download movies, music and even softwares ?

  14. Robble "Little Hitler" Rubble

    Jan 23rd, 2012

    Asking this blog to be up to date and relevant is a fool’s errand.

  15. hobo_kelly

    Jan 23rd, 2012

    OK Mischief Makers, some abstract subconscious element of this thread had me out looking for cartoons this morning and here is what I found… Imagine what would happen if you started a meme about a cat that wore a Strawberry Poptart and farted Rainbows… Well don’t imagine it because this is what eventually happens:

  16. hobo_kelly

    Jan 23rd, 2012

    Here is the poptart cat. sorry for the wrong url

  17. Yep

    Jan 24th, 2012

    @Robble “Little Hitler” Rubble

    JN says James is Little Hitler. You are at THE ALPHAVILLE HERALD. Not the Second Life Herald.
    Maybe next time the forum’s topic concerns the price of tea in China.
    It’s called DIVERSITY HUN. :P

  18. Paul

    Jan 24th, 2012


    Wow dude you must be really unlucky. I have been a premium member for years and have never had any trouble with erroneous billing. Maybe it is personal.. do they have any reason to not like you?

  19. Emperor Norton

    Jan 24th, 2012


    Don’t you get it Paul; Linden Lab is Statist LOOTERS using their monopoly of their privately owned servers to steal from the mouths of Producers like Interliber.

    If it wasn’t for the Governance Team Nanny State Second Life would be powered by static electricity by now and the main land rail road wouldn’t have any lag on sim crossing.

  20. Reader

    Jan 24th, 2012

    I laughed hard at the “so true” aspect of all of that Emperor

  21. T-Bone Tone

    Jan 24th, 2012

    Oh, my. Any more…ahem…. cutting edge articles like this and the Herald is truly washed up.

    This is a consumer webpage article, surely? Please, get back into SL, and some other virtual worlds and get digging, or create a consumer webpage…..and give up on investigative journalism with Virtual worlds and high tech.

  22. GG3

    Jan 25th, 2012

    Companies who were concerned about the internet actually did something. They protested.

    Second-Life? Just merrily boxing itself in a cube as usual. Other than the forums there’s not a peep about these critical issues that can and will affect the internet itself and everything hosted in it.

    Sad seeing that Linden Labs relies upon user-generated content to keep Second-Life operational sit silent while big companies such as reddit, twitter, and facebook took a stand.

    And boy do i see a lot of copyright songs thrown into boxes and items to be sold!

    The slothfulness of the lab is pathetic at this point. But then again the Lab is silent about a lot of things aren’t they?

  23. GG3

    Jan 25th, 2012

    Copyrighted songs, ripped textures, ripped motion data, ripped costumes and characters. The list goes on unfortunately and it’s still available in Second-Life. Sold at the markets and in-world.

    Second-Life is lucky that these bills were put on hold. Otherwise a shut-down sooner or later would have been unavoidable.

  24. Anguissette

    Jan 29th, 2012

    The Lab actually has been working to keep at least some copyrighted products out of Marketplace. Unfortunately, in my experience, they did it in a rather half assed way – I had a greeting card removed from my Marketplace store for being in copyright violation. It was a greeting card with a photo of a fluffy brown cat on it, which was basically to send to someone to say hi. LL in their wisdom deemed this to be Hello Kitty merchandise, even though it had nothing to do with Hello Kitty and didn’t feature the words hello or kitty on it.


  25. Yep

    Jan 29th, 2012


    Copyrighted songs, ripped textures, ripped motion data, ripped costumes and characters. The list goes on unfortunately and it’s still available in Second-Life. Sold at the markets and in-world.

    Second-Life is lucky that these bills were put on hold. Otherwise a shut-down sooner or later would have been unavoidable.”

    SOPA and PIPA are gone for now, but we have a stronger world wide version called ACTA in the works. Instead of USA user being barred from SL, now it is the world.
    So now a few of the greedy content creaters who copy a design from the real world can mess up SL for all of the rest of us.
    Time to save your real world money and stay away from buying linden money.
    Possibly one day when people try to log into SL and find the site is closed down due to real world copyright theft, everything they have spent on this game will be like flushing money down the commode.

  26. Curtis

    Feb 18th, 2012

    The scams are still going full blast, raking in millions for the perpetrators. MBLOX is the provider that is responsible. They solicit others to use their service to do the scamming and to route the billing through them. They seem to have enough money and influence to intimidate the cell and telephone companies into continuing to allow them to make charges to their customers through the telephone bill. Strong action is needed by our legal and regulatory system to get it stopped. Looks like the Telephone/Cell providers are unable or unwilling to undertake the task.

  27. Curtis

    Feb 22nd, 2012

    Do NOT send Stop in response to the scam messages. call your carrier to complain and ask for a credit. The carrier keeps track of the number of complaints and calls to their service reps and charge the perpetrator when the number reaches a certain level. MBLOX is the major transmitter of these messages and processor for the charges. They could stop the fraud but they are profiting big time from them. MBLOX is responsible to police what is sent from their facilities but are not doing so. As soon as you receive the messges they have already charged your account so call your carrier and COMPLAIN.

  28. andy

    Apr 15th, 2012

    mblox is a cram scam through and through. Anyone with your phone number can sign you up for a “service” like IQ test. Did you send a txt with caller ID on to someone you don’t really know (like on craigslist)? If so, you exposed yourself to your number being signed up without your permission and it doesn’t require any other authorization.

    Mblox has offices in Sunnyvale, CA.
    430 N. Mary Avenue
    Suite 100
    CA 94085
    United States
    +1 408 617 3700

    I say we mount a flashmob and drag the CEO Steven Love into the street and pelt him mercilessly with old cell phones. And then proceed down the executive chain.
    Secondly, I think we should harness social networks to find out where this A-hole actually lives since I’ll bet the sunnyvale office is probably just a mailbox. Pitchforks and torches on his front lawn might be worth the $40 he’s pinched me for.

  29. Paul Walk

    Jun 17th, 2012

    mBLOX is a well known scam company. One of the worst for it. I used to work for one of their service providers and i recall them saying we must try to bill users as much as possible!

    say not more on mBlox.

  30. Joe

    Jun 21st, 2012

    I called AT&T to remove these charges from my bill. Not only did I get a credit for the full amount, but the service representative immediately suggested I get the “free” spam blocking service. She was able to take care of me in just a few minutes. It was a very pleasant experience for a change.

  31. Cell phone text scam

    Jul 14th, 2012

    [...] Alan Looks like this is a common thing called 'cramming' The Great SMS Cramming Game | The Alphaville Herald [...]

  32. Mark

    Feb 1st, 2013

    All the criticism here has a big flaw. Let me explain you why:

    Let’s say you order a product online for delivery… as an example let’s pick a wristwatch.

    Once you pay the delivery-guy at your front-door and he hands over the package to you, you discover that the company actually sent you the wrong product – which you didn’t order at all. Snap!

    Now what do you do? Do you blame the delivery company for the mistake and make them pay all the money back? Or would you go back in touch with the company you ordered the watch from?

    If you receive billable text messages out of the blue and you didn’t order them, contact your network operator and request an investigation. That ensures that the operator looks into their system and goes back to the aggregator or the content provider to verify the details of this case. Companies need to provide a confirmation about the opt-in initiated by the mobile phone user.

    Companies like MBLOX simply do the delivery of the content and charge money in lieu of the company that actually creates the content and sets the price of the messages.

    (written by someone who has been in the same situation as the author)

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