We have all, at one point or another- received a text message on our cell phone advertising something. Some promote celebrity gossip sites, horoscopes, or maybe even a contest. The text-message you received is from a unique short number and usually looks like this, 39933. Well, those lovely little numbers are called short codes and they represent something so much more. If you haven’t been contacted by one of these yet, then consider yourself lucky.
Let’s dive right into this. For several months I was receiving consistent text messages from a short code. Unaware of what this was, I did what anyone would do. I ignored it. I figured that if I simply deleted them, it would be no harm done and I would not be affected by it in any way. Wrong! Upon review of one of my monthly statements I discovered that the entire time I played blind to these messages, I was being billed $9.99 a month. Upset about these charges, I called Sprint immediately to assist me. U wanted a full explanation of what these charges were for and to promptly have it removed from my bill. Well, easier said than done. I was informed by Sprint that the monthly reoccurring charges were from a text-message horoscope service that I supposedly subscribed to and that a full refund was out of the question. Despite my every effort to explain to the numerous customer service agents and supervisors I spoke with, that I did NOT subscribe to any service, Sprint still refused to give me a full refund. I was charged for 8 months and only refunded for 2. I was told I needed to speak with the third party company that charged me to receive the rest of my money. Not cool to say the least. In complete disbelief of what was happening, I began doing some “recon” work of my own, to prove my case and in the interim I came across a lot of interesting things. Share you say? Well certainly!
First thing’s first. I researched Sprints contract to see if there was anything in it that indicated this type of refund policy, to which I did not find anything that pertained to my particular situation. I began calling Sprint to just speak with supervisors to ask questions on how these codes work, who is in charge of them, and their overall subscription process. That’s when everything started falling into place. Each Sprint agent I spoke with informed me that short codes are operated by a Third Party Company. Each have their own method for enrollment and Sprint will charge you the subscription fee as a form of reimbursement to them selves for fulfilling your balance upfront. What?! Yeah, that’s what I said. It didn’t make much sense to me either, but it gets worst. Sprint later went back on their word stating that they do no pay this third party upfront, but collect the payment for them and kindly forward it over to them (awwww, so sweet right?) I couldn’t believe this, why would Sprint help out this no name company, collect their payments, manage this for millions of customers, and then forward the money over to the company with out any kind of benefit to themselves? So, are they just doing this out of the kindness of their hearts? I think not! This made me wearier of the situation and I continued on with my little investigation.
It was disturbing to discover the type business these companies were conducting. Every Sprint agent I spoke with confirmed that there is no security process to protect their customers from this. Meaning, if one of these third party companies claimed you’ve subscribed to their service, your mobile network provider will automatically begin charging you. No mobile carrier requests any confirmation that the customer accepted any terms and conditions either. So it’s basically your word against theirs. All of this became too real when I was given the contact information for the third party company I was being charged by, only to discover that there were multiple names and numbers for this one company. How can Sprint claim to do legit business with a company that they have no credible information on? I was given a total of 4 different names: Mobile Media Solutions (MMS), Mblox, Dotted Line Media, and Blacktie Mobile Affairs. The phone numbers given to me did not work properly either; a recorded message would come on and then place me on hold. After about 20 seconds of hold time, the call would be disconnected with out any warning. Sprint did not even have an address on file, only an email address for MMS. The Sprint Executive Office Agent I worked with emailed MMS for proof of acceptance and acknowledgement of services, as well as the number of charges, in order to initiate the refund process. She received an email in reply, not from MMS but from a company called Premium Customer Care (PCC). This company denied any affiliation to MMS, although they responded from an email that was sent to the other company. The other companies mentioned above, were of no help either. Mblox for example informed me that they are just a network and have no dealings with billing customers or actual content of the text. The agent that looked up my mobile number stated that I was receiving the short code and being billed by Dotted Line Media, but then provided me with the same phone number and email Sprint gave me for MMS. There was no mention of Premium Customer Care.
As if that wasn’t enough suspicious activity, upon further research, I discovered that these companies have had many fraudulent cases and complaints. The Better Business Bureau red flagged Mobile Media solutions and Premium Customer Care for having over 200 complaints on this very same issue. When I finally located a working phone number for PCC, I was told by their agents that they are outsourced by various companies (in my case guessology/blacktie mobile affair) to handle the customer service aspect of any business, and again stated that they did not know who or what was MMS. I was then instructed to contact their main office by mail (3317 East Bell Road Unit 101-136. Phoenix, Arizona) for any discrepancies with billing or request of any kind; that no one in their call center (located in Toronto) was able to help or provide any further details. When I googled the above mentioned address, this is what popped up:
Dec 21, 2010 … Get in Touch! Mobile-Media-Solutions 3317 East Bell Road Unit 101-136.
Phoenix, Arizona, 85032. Customer Service Number: 1-877-707-www.worldwide-facts.com/contact.html
Dec 21, 2010 … Get in Touch! Mobile-Media-Solutions 3317 East Bell Road Unit 101-136.
Phoenix, Arizona, 85032. Customer Service Number: 1-877-707 www.the-online-md.com/contact.html
The PCC agents also mentioned that their Customer Service facility is located on 607 – 36 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto, ON M4R 1A1; The BBB shows this address to be MMS. Here’s the kicker; both PCC and MMS websites are identical!!! I’m talking about word for word, template, pictures, everything! Even the same phone number is displayed in their contact section. Clearly, they were lying.
That finally brought me to the question, how are these codes regulated? I figured there has to be an agency of some sort to distribute and manage these codes and I was correct. The Common Short Code Administration (CSCA) “oversees the technical and operational aspects of CSC (Common Short Code) functions and maintains a single database of available, reserved, and registered CSCs”. In visiting their website you can see just how easy it is for anyone to obtain one, and just how loosely they are monitored. So the way it works is, basically Sprint and every other wireless carrier are presented short code campaigns by various companies and they must submit what their initiative is. The wireless carrier has to then approve this code in order to be put in their system (which tracks the mutual customers receiving this service, along with the monthly billing amount). “All applications are reviewed by the Carrier(s) interested in launching your campaign. All campaigns must conform to consumer best practices and are reviewed and approved by each carrier individually”- Common Short Code Administration FAQ’s. Apparently a short code operates off of several contributing factors. The third party creating the actual content will work with multiple companies; one being the network to get the advertisement out to customers, and the other is your mobile carrier, because with out them you wouldn’t be able to receive the content.
In essence, all these companies were in cahoots with one another. Sprint claimed to have no information on a company they do business with and in all actuality approved the billing of their services. Not to mention they claim to collect payment for this company, so where do they send it if they have no address on file? The third party companies themselves were scammers and had multiple names. The companies that worked with MMS or PCC didn’t have the correct information on their business partners either. Through all of this, it was never made crystal clear what Sprint or any of the other companies get out of these shady workings and backdoor dealings, but it’s clear that they benefitted somehow. Perhaps they received a percentage of the profits. In either case, the bigger picture is that the huge “run-around” I was given, prompted me to conduct my own research. Should you ever come across anything similar with any company or institution, I seriously urge you to do the same. It’s important that we always trust our gut feeling when something doesn’t seem right. Always remember to ask questions and do your own thorough research to make your own conclusions.
*The end result of this story was a full refund from sprint and the third party company.