28 August 2011

SendMe sends me a scam

Is is possible to sign up for a $9.99/month cell phone "Music Fan Club" simply by receiving a cryptic text message? That's what the folks at SendMe Mobile seem to be telling me.

I've heard of people getting cell phone spam, but yesterday marked the first time I've received any. Or at least that's what I thought it was.

Here's what the message from 77899 said: SendMe:Music fan Club:Ringtones & trivias@sendmemobile.com 10 credits & alerts $9.99/month+msg&data rates may apply txt help4help.txt stop2end. Download Now!

I didn't think much of it until I received a second text message today that appeared to be some sort of celebrity quiz. And then the alarm bells rang: A number of years ago when I did some contract for Google I ran across numerous attempts by companies to rip off consumers with worthless cell phone services such as celebrity quizzes.

I wasn't about to pay $9.99 per month for such garbage, and I wasn't about to send these folks a text message that would viewed as consent of some sort. So I called the company's customer service line.

To my surprise, a woman answered.

I told her I didn't want any more spam, and she looked up my "account" — and told me I would be charged $9.99 by Verizon for the service I had signed up for.

I told her I didn't sign up for such service, and she said she had confirmation from Saturday morning — at the time SendMe sent me the message I never responded to.

Once I apparently had her convinced that I hadn't confirmed any order for such a "subscription," she told me that someone who borrowed my phone must have done so. But not only did no one else have possession of my phone, but my phone also keeps track of text messages sent — and there was none to SendMe.

The woman ultimately did offer to send me a refund — a move I interpreted as an attempt to get me off the line. Not believing I'd ever see such a refund, I told her not to bill Verizon in the first place (after all, it was a weekend when I had supposedly confirmed the subscription).

But that would be against the law, she told me. Once her company bills the phone carrier, she said, it has no ability to reverse the charges.

But SendMe shouldn't be billing the phone company for services never ordered, I told her. But she said I did — probably while online. Where online? I asked her. She said she couldn't say. I've done enough research to know how this company operates — usually by getting people to take quizzes and the like and expecting that they won't read the fine print when they provide their cell phone number in order to get the results. But I always read the fine print, because I know how these scams work. In any case, it has been months since I've taken any online quiz or anything like that, and neither have I provided my cell phone number to any strangers other than prospective employers.

And so it went. Next step: I wrote to Verizon to make it clear that such charges were never authorized. I expect Verizon will do the right thing, but we'll see what happens next.

Update: As promised, Verizon responded to my e-mail within 24 hours. The person I talked to said the $9.99 charge would be removed even before the bill comes, so kudos to the phone company. And while he couldn't say anything specifically about SendMe, he did say that Verizon is investigating various "premium text" companies to make certain they're dealing in an honest manner.

I assured him that SendMe is not.

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