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EE customers stung by accidental premium rate charges

Tuesday, September 8th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

EE customers are being hit by unexpected charges after unwittingly subscribing to a premium rate service.

Many customers have discovered charges of around £4 a week to a company called either Mobitrans or Mobile Academy on their mobile bills, despite not realising that they had signed up.

A topic thread on the EE forum dates back to October 2014, with messages as recent as last week.

In the forum, customers describe finding charges of up to £100 on their bill, then later realising they are itemised as payments to Mobitrans.

One EE customer wrote: “EE from the sounds of it are aware of the number of complaints regarding Mobitrans and should be held accountable for doing less to address the issue.

“100 complaints of this nature is £400 sacked out of people's accounts without their consent."

Several other customers described obtaining refunds from Mobile Academy after contacting them about the payments.

One customer wrote: “Just keep pestering them, I emailed everyday for two months, finally got them to agree to give my full money back.

“I've emailed the CEO a few times. Sent him messages on Facebook. Basically just made a nuisance of myself. It has worked.”

Jamie McCormick (pictured), 36, an assistant site manager from Edgware, London, told Cable.co.uk his charges started on 6 April according to Mobitrans, but he did not realise until 3 June.

“I don't receive a paper bill, and it’s very rare I check up, having been an Orange/EE customer for around 13 years," he said.

'Smoke and mirrors'

“My bill was getting higher each month, so I called up to check, and EE informed me that I had apparently subscribed to this service, they put a stop on anymore charges.”

When he contacted Mobitrans, he was told a refund was not possible but after around two weeks of continuous emails insisting he had not subscribed to anything, Mr McCormick was told he could have a refund of £18 – half of the money that had been taken.

“I responded saying it wasn't good enough, they have eventually agreed to refund everything, but I am still waiting for it to be placed into my Paypal,” he added.

Ben Bell, 38, from Surrey, said: “I've spent literally hours on the phone over this.

“EE insist that they cannot be held responsible but clearly from a legal perspective alone it is they who I have a contract with, not Mobitrans, and it is they who have acted to take the money from my account.

“Any claims to the contrary are smoke and mirrors and would not, I suspect, stand up in court.”

He said EE eventually refunded him as a goodwill gesture, but only after referring him to the premium rate mobile regulator PhonepayPlus and telling him he had to contest the charges with Mobitrans themselves.

Other users took to Twitter to voice their frustration.

A PhonepayPlus spokesperson said Mobitrans appeared to be an ‘own-portal service’, which falls outside the scope of premium rate services regulation so is not regulated by PhonepayPlus.

“This type of service is provided by the relevant Mobile Network operator (MNO), and in contrast with other services which are regulated by PhonepayPlus, it is the MNO in question who is responsible for customer service, complaints handling etc. rather than a third party service provider – it is therefore the responsibility of the MNOs to ensure that complaints about own-portal services are addressed.

“Consumers should contact their mobile provider, explain the issue and ask them to resolve it."

If consumers are not satisfied, they can approach their ombudsman or Ofcom, the spokesperson said.

Own-portal services were explicitly removed from the scope of premium rate service regulation after a decision by Ofcom in 2012, they added.

Mobitrans CEO Joost Goeree, said: "Mobile Academy is an award-winning mobile learning service that offers unlimited access to more than 50 different courses to its subscribers for a recurring fee per week.

"The Mobile Academy’s courses come in a made-for-mobile format and are delivered via native apps and a website that is optimised for mobile devices. Mobitrans’ connections to operator billing platforms, including the one from EE in the UK, enable us to charge end-users via their account with the operator.

'Promotional banners'

"Only when an end-user is identified (by using the operator’s data network) and he/she has activated the service, we are able to start charging our subscribers. At any time, subscribers to our mobile services can cancel their subscription by sending a STOP command by SMS, in the Mobile Academy service or by getting in touch with our customer care centre by telephone or email."

Despite PhonePayPlus saying Mobitrans does not fall under its remit, in his response to Cable.co.uk Mr Goeree said Mobitrans is a member of the premium rate regulator and all of its activities in the UK are in line with PPP’s Code of Practice and EE’s specific rules for mobile content services.

"Due to its mobile-only nature, the Mobile Academy is promoted mostly via promotional banners shown in apps and on websites. These promotions provide details on the service that include the price, frequency of billing, terms and conditions and how to unsubscribe," he added.

"Only after users interact with these pages (by clicking on a button that shows ‘Subscribe now! £4 per week’), the subscription is started. Upon this activation, an SMS is sent to the user that confirms the subscription, again with all details on the service as well as customer service contact details.

"We encourage consumers to always carefully read the information provided in online promotions to avoid any surprises on their phone bill. That’s also why our promos and text messages clearly indicate the charges that are associated with our services.

"Also, consumers should not ignore any text messages (confirmation messages, reminders) that are sent to their phone as they provide essential details on the services that are activated. On top of that, consumers can get in touch with their mobile operator to request a bar on premium services that will block any attempt to activate premium rate services."

EE said Mobitrans/Mobile Academy is a third party service which provides online learning services, though 'direct to bill transactions' via third party payment partner INFOMEDIA.

INFOMEDIA and partners are entirely opt-in digital services so customers must actively follow the two-step sign-up process which notifies them of the charges they’ll incur for the service.

Mobitrans customers receive SMS notifications of any purchases with regular reminders they are subscribed to the service, EE said, and anyone with any questions about their bill should contact customer services.

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