A civil action campaign spearheaded by Noseweek is attempting to get the four big cellphone service providers – MTN, Vodacom, CellC, and Telkom – to stop what is described as the illegal charging of customers for services that is earning them “possibly billions of rands in spoils”.
According to Noseweek, network providers are earning the “lion’s share” of these spoils, illegally earned “in cahoots with a steady flow of shady ‘third party content providers’, many of them offshore”.
These content providers, known as Wireless Application Service Providers (WASPS), have been “illegally charging customers for services they’ve never signed up for” according to a summary of the campaign.
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According to the campaign, at best, customers will receive an “opaque” SMS allowing them to opt out, although sometimes they will simply start having the money deducted from their accounts.
The campaign seeks to lobby the NPA and SAPS to take legal action against the CEOs, boards, and senior management of all four major companies “for allowing this fraud to continue”.
They also want to launch a class action lawsuit so consumers can get their money back and get parliament to review legislation “governing the shady third-party providers”.
“There is no written contract. Nothing is sent to your email or delivered in your post. You don’t even get a reference number. All that you apparently get is an SMS – if you’re lucky,” the summary continues, adding that “many South Africans have no idea they are being saddled with these costs, sometimes on a daily basis”.
The campaign also includes a tweet from Noseweek’s Martin Welz, which quotes a reader as saying that when he took MTN to court over the charges, they paid.
More information on the campaign, as well as how to join, is available here.
The media departments of all four companies have been contacted for comment. Vodacom and Telkom have not yet responded.
Cell C senior manager of external communications Candice Jones sent the response below, which has been published verbatim:
“In 2012, Cell C implemented a double opt-in platform that introduced mechanisms that allow customers to completely control the third party Wireless Application Service Providers (WASP) services that are available.
The platform enforces customer authorization all subscriptions against their mobile accounts through double authentication. This is done via the service itself and an SMS from Cell C, which the customer must reply “yes” to for any subscription to be activated. If a customer does not reply or replies no, the subscription will not be activated. Additionally, the platform allows customers the ability to view and cancel any subscription via a USSD menu (*133*1#). Cell C also provides customers with the ability to completely block their mobile accounts from any WASP subscription service. Cell C also works closely with WASPA to ensure that any outliers are addressed promptly if they manage to bypass the solution. Cell C will always prioritise the customer and introduced this service specifically to protect customers from WASP services they do not want.”
Responding on behalf of MTN, Jacqui O’Sullivan went into detail on the action the company says its taken against fraudulent WASP subscriptions.
“The issue … is one that has received serious attention and action from MTN. The issue has seen customers, across all networks, unknowingly or accidentally subscribing to WASP services, through various types of fraud that include click jacking, as well as SMS and call fraud (amongst others),” she said.
“MTN has taken specific and direct action to counter these criminal activities. Our Treating Customers Fairly policy commits to protect all our customers from fraudulent activities such as scams and the kind of WASP activities mentioned,” she continued.
“MTN’s call centre has very clear instructions in dealing with WASP queries from our customers. If any MTN customer reports a subscription that they did not willingly enter in to, MTN will end the subscription and will refund the customer,” said O’Sullivan.
She did not comment on the tweet from Welz which claims that one of his readers was paid out by MTN after issuing a summons at the Magistrate’s Court.
UPDATE: Comment from Cell C was added at 12:33 on November 2.
UPDATE: Comment from MTN was added at 16:13 on November 2.