When I wrote about preacquired account marketing for Consumerist back in October, I never dreamed I would fall victim to the scam. I also never dreamed the company who screwed me would be T-Mobile, a company I have had a relationship with since February 11, 2004 (I checked), and from which I have always received excellent customer service.
But last month, my bill was $9.99 too high. I looked into the charge, which shows up as “41463GamerData_8668958697″ on my bill, and spotted another $9.99 charge coming due on my next bill. I have no idea who Gamer-Data is, but I do know I have never had anything to do with them. The only way I could have incurred these charges is by not doing anything.
Which turned out to be the case.
At some point, Gamer-Data sent me a text message to which I did not respond. When I did not respond, T-Mobile decided that was good enough to pay Gamer-Data and then charge me $9.99 for its trouble. I do not have the message from Gamer-Data, but I do have one I received from Info-Text-Alert, to which this month’s $9.99 would have gone. Here it is:
Info-Text-AlertText Alert ProgramAll Alerts 9,99/m Unlimited Alerts#1info,help,stop Info-Text-Alert.comNotifications 2 ur cellTop Alerts
Is that supposed to be some kind of contract? How in the world does my failure to respond to that message constitute my consent to be billed $9.99 by T-Mobile? The message does not even contain the amount of the charges unless you squint really hard at that comma in “9,99″ and imagine a dollar sign somewhere nearby. The message has no warning that I will be charged if I do not respond, or what I should respond if I do not want to be charged.
If you want to know about the valuable information that Info-Text-Alert will deliver for your $9.99 per month, here is the only other message I received from it:
Info: Newcomer Kesha took her first solo chart single “TiK ToK” to the top of the Billboard Hot 100.
That message is hardly worth $9.99, even if I wanted it. It was also sent before the one above, which I assume was supposed to warn me about the charges.
This is a scam. The unfortunate part of the scam is that T-Mobile is in cahoots with Gamer-Data, Info-Text-Alert, and probably other text-message scammers. Just as bad, T-Mobile has apparently trained its customer service representatives to defend the practice. The CSR I spoke with insisted that T-Mobile “had” to pay Gamer-Data and Info-Text-Alert (both have websites—just add .com—obviously designed by the same person), but insisted that it was not T-Mobile that billed me for their services. Staring at the charges on my T-Mobile bills, I assured her she was mistaken. She insisted I did not understand how this works; that even though I never gave T-Mobile permission to pay anyone else on my behalf, they just had to do it.
I admit, I got mad. The CSR I spoke with remained impressively perky in the face of my anger. I am ashamed to admit I may have used words like “lawyer,” “blog,” and “preacquired account marketing” at various points during the call. The CSR’s perky lies had me sketching out a class action lawsuit on a nearby note card. She offered to credit my account for the charges, but I refused. I wanted the charges refunded immediately, or I wanted interest during the delay. In the end, she spoke to a supervisor and then agreed to an immediate refund (which is not a refund, but shows up as a credit to my T-Mobile account).
One might say that T-Mobile made this right in the end. I would not. This sort of thing is bullshit.
I should not have to yell at a CSR to have fraudulent charges removed from my bill; they should never have been there in the first place. And I should not be charged for not responding to a gibberish text message. If this was an isolated mistake, T-Mobile should immediately refund the charges, no questions asked. If not, I hope T-Mobile has to answer a very expensive lawsuit—or maybe a congressional inquiry.
As for me, I intend to leave T-Mobile as soon as my current contract ends in April, and I encourage you to do the same. At a minimum, start scrutinizing your bills and asking questions if you see any suspicious charges.