This December a fraudulent charge started showing up on my prepaid AT&T GoPhone. Being both extremely rarely used and also prepaid, I didn't even look at my account balance until it was refill time.
04/05/2011 10:54:03 AM CDT RingTones/AnswerTones/Games -$ 9.99
03/05/2011 07:08:26 AM CST RingTones/AnswerTones/Games -$ 9.99
02/05/2011 05:44:57 AM CST RingTones/AnswerTones/Games -$ 9.99
01/05/2011 08:03:43 AM CST RingTones/AnswerTones/Games -$ 9.99
12/04/2010 01:24:46 PM CST RingTones/AnswerTones/Games -$ 9.99
Every month, AT&T is sending $10 of my money to... who?
Nature of Call Local
Number Called -
Calling Number MY CELL NUMBER
Call Date 12/04/2010
Call Time 07:24:46 PM
Call Duration 0min 0sec
Total Amount -$9.99
Service Used -
Unit(s) Charged -
Call Location None
OK, I still don't know what that is. I have never downloaded ringtones, answertones, or games. I don't think my ancient phone even has that capability anymore (the useless builtin web browser stopped working around 2008). I called customer service, and got "Maria", who was actually quite understanding and helpful.
Except she had no idea who was getting my money either. It's an "MQ charge", a recurring charge, like for ringtone of the day. But there's no source number, and she can't actually tell me anything about where my money was going. She managed to swing me an 80% refund, which she took pains to point out was coming from AT&T, not... whoever had been getting my money. She tossed in a cheaper dialing plan, and turned on "Purchase Block" for the account, so I can give my PIN if I want to make purchases over the phone in the future.
So I hung up happy, and didn't get pissed off until I did a little more digging. Only seconds prior to the first charge showing up, my bill shows three SMS messages from "0150100197956", which is AT&T billing-speak for SMS #97956. A quick google turned up page after page of people screwed by SMS #97956
. This particular scam is supposed to send you uninspiring "inspirational messages" for $9.99/month, at least until you figure out who they are and ban them. They have a worthless "Text STOP to unsubscribe" message, which I never even saw, and evidently usually doesn't stop them anyway. They even have a website, if you are so brain-dead as to actually desire their service:http://inspiracell.pigfucker.com/
(I may have mistyped the URL due to my displeasure.)
Imagine, if you will, that adjacent to Old Navy in your local mall was "Inspirastore", which employs pickpockets to lift cash from your wallet. Pure theft, right? But instead, say they use RFID technology to lift your credit card number directly from your wallet, and charge $10 per month to it. Sorry, that's still theft. But! What if they provided some "service", like keeping your credit card account active with their charges, and the terms and conditions are printed in extremely fine print behind their fire exit sign? Now it's all perfectly legal! At least until they catch us!
Of course, the mall would toss them out, or they'd be facing legal action. "Inspirastore"'s employees would get cuffed by the local cops, or at least beat up in the parking lot repeatedly.
But in the cellphone world, SMS scams just seem to keep on running. I fear that AT&T (and the other cell providers) let these scams keep running because they're *profitable*: I don't know how much total billing SMS scammers generate for the major cell companies, but it's certainly in the millions. AT&T has to pay some fraction of that back when people catch them, but I swallowed only an 80% refund, right?