Australians could be paying millions in unwanted third-party mobile fees

Alex Kidman 11 July 2017 NEWS

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Australians are unwittingly paying way more on their mobile bills thanks to premium services or confusing subscription terms.

Many of the issues that once led to serious bill shock have (more or less) been resolved, with many plans now offering unlimited standard national calls and texts, although roaming fees are often still an issue for many Australians who don't prepare properly before they travel.

New research from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) suggests that bill shock caused by roaming fees has been joined by bill shock relating to the cost of third-party services such as premium SMS, television show vote-in competitions and some app purchases. This has led to many consumers feeling frustrated by their unexpectedly high mobile bills.

According to ACCAN's research, around 12% of respondents reported seeing unwanted charges on their monthly bills for premium or subscription services. Extrapolated across the subscription base of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, that could represent nearly two million respondents.

Given that over a third of respondents who had been hit with unexpected charges reported paying more than $10 in extra fees, that's a serious level of excess charges. Many respondents reported that they were subscribed to multiple monthly services without their knowledge, suggesting that other users of the handset, such as children, may be unwittingly signing up without permission.

ACCAN has called for greater transparency when it comes to mobile charging, particularly since research shows that just under 50% of all respondents were not aware their phones could be used to subscribe to premium services in the first place.

In a statement, ACCAN's Director of Policy, Una Lawrence said that "This significant lack of awareness indicates that there should be stronger consumer protections, such as default barring of third-party charging and better consumer information.

If people want to charge items to their phone bill they should have to actively change their settings with their telco. Otherwise their phone is like an unsecured credit card, and people have no idea what they’re being charged for."

So what can you do if you're being hit with extra bill charges you never agreed to? The first step would be to contact the service provider to cancel. If that doesn't work, take the matter up with your telco directly, requesting that they bar the service and its associated charges. If that still doesn't resolve the issue, it may be worth pursuing the matter with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).

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