Reverend billed for unwanted porn texts

By Fiona Woods
Reporter, Money Box

image captionPremium rate messages cannot be sent unless they have been signed up for

A Reverend says he has been billed for unwanted text messages he received containing links to pornographic material.

The minister, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted Radio 4's Money Box programme after he received a series of texts.

The minister was charged £1.25 for each message. Despite repeatedly texting "STOP" to the numbers, he continued to be charged for the service.

"I phoned up customer services on Vodafone and they said these are reverse charge text messages," he told the programme.

"I asked if I they could block them, he said no, but he could give me a phone number which would allow me to de-register from them."

The minister did that, but a few days later the same thing started happening again.

Vodafone did manage to put a bar in place and refund the money but the minister feels that customers should not be put in this position in the first place.

"It would be much better if you couldn't be charged for receiving anything at all, [if] you actually had to send something to pay."

Breaking rules

The regulator of premium rate numbers, PhonepayPlus, says it is a breach of the rules to send unsolicited text messages that promote premium rate services.

It is also against the code of conduct to charge customers unless they have signed up for a service.

Paul Whiting, chief executive of PhonepayPlus, says his organisation is looking into the matter.

"They shouldn't be charged for anything they haven't signed up for or haven't initiated.

"If that has happened, that's potentially a breach of our code of practice and it's a very serious issue we shall look at very carefully."

Under scrutiny

PhonepayPlus told Money Box it has traced some of the messages back to a company called Switchfire Ltd.

Money Box has learned that it is already being looked at by the regulator for alleged breaches of the rules after it received a number of complaints. Firms that breach rules can face charges of up to £250,000 or a ban.

Switchfire's customer services manager, Dace Viesture, could not speak about the minister's case but told Money Box: "It is very unlikely indeed that any user would be billed without consuming any content.

"If the user is unhappy with the service they have used, they will almost certainly receive a no quibbles refund."

BBC Radio 4's Money Box is broadcast on Saturdays at 12:00 GMT and repeated on Sundays at 21:00 GMT.

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