Premium service thieves on Airtel and Safaricom

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  • 5 years ago
  • Posted: June 3, 2014 at 11:50 am

In February this year we ran an article on “How to deactivate Safaricom Premium Services”  that could be eating into your credit. Then WhatsApp was bought by Facebook. In the week of the historical purchase, someone came up with a spam message related to the purchase that I can’t remember the content but it had a file to be downloaded. The file could have been a virus.

Then an idea struck me, “what if I come up with another spam message warning users against the first message, and that to clean the virus they need to click on a link to a portal from where I can automatically subscribe all of them into a premium service?” Quick statistics ran into my mind. We have about 2.5 million smartphones in Kenya. Assuming 60% or so are on WhatsApp, and my spam message could spread to 20% of them, and half of that number could click on the link, then I would have subscribed 150,000 Kenyans into my illegal premium service. If I deducted 10 bob from each, then at the end of the circulation of the spam message I could have made a cool 1.5 million shillings!

My thoughts are not that of a genius. If you read the article I have linked to above, you’d realize a number of Kenyans, by that time, had already complained a lot to Safaricom about credit deductions by premium service providers that they had not subscribed to; meaning a number of premium service providers were already doing what I thought of doing. At the end of the article we had this comment from KenyanPoet:

You have not addressed the root cause. Are we all at the mercy of the PRSPs? Is it legal for them to auto-subscribe users? Do they refund? if not, how can one pursue legal action? Are Safaricom clean in all these, if so, why are they not helping their customers who are most affected. I have had my spate with MobileSawa a thirdpary provider under Adtel. They completely refused to refund despite proof that I never subscribed to their premium rate messages. Maybe you need to write an open letter to COFEK and CCK for a lasting solution.

 

Well I did not follow on the request to write an open letter to Cofek and CCK but someone seems to have done just that, not against Safaricom this time, but against Airtel. Here is the letter as posted by Cofek on their website:

Why is Airtel Kenya allowing “Brighter Monday” to illegally subscribe and charge me for job-hunting SMS alerts never requested?

 

“I am writing to lodge a formal complaint for unauthorized subscription to BrighterMonday Job Alerts at Ksh 5 for every alert. This is an illegality, and quite upsetting since I haven’t subscribed to such a service. Further, I am NOT looking for a job.

“For the record, my number is 0732***785. Well, this afternoon between 13:35 and 13:38hrs, I received the following messages:

Number: 31100 Content: 92882, Source: brightermonday.co.ke, To get more such alerts, reply with JS1 to this message (Charges at KSH 5)

Number: 31100 Content: Job Found for you: Marketing / Sales Executive,MARKETING, MEDIA & BRAND, Marketing, Media & Brand, To know more, visit: Http://www.brightermonday.co.ke/
Time: 02/06/2014 13:35:56

Number: 31100 Content: Thank you for subscribing Marketplace jobs. Your subscription has been charged at KSH 5/SMS. To Stop the service dial *343# (Tollfree) at any time.
Time: 02/06/2014 13:38:12

Initially, I had a balance of Ksh 20.02. Following the subscription deduction, the balance is now Ksh 15.02.

 

UPDATE: I have since transferred the remaining Ksh 15 airtime to another of my numbers to forestall further deductions.

My request follows…

 

To CCK & COFEK

Please do something about Airtel Kenya. Every now and then, I have to officially complain about such illegalities as well as read many, many complaints online about this company.
Are they no longer accountable to anyone?

To Airtel Kenya

1. Explain how I was subscribed to a service that I have absolutely no need for without my knowledge or consent.

2. Immediately unsubscribe me from the Brighter Monday sms Jobs Alert service on number 31100. Further, officially assure and communicate to all the parties this Email is copied to, that I shall no longer have to endure this.

3. Refund the amount deducted from my account. Yes, it is ONLY Ksh 5 but I’m not willing to pay for ANY service I do not need or use.

CONCLUSION

Does it really have to be this vexing to use Airtel Kenya services? Should this issue not be adequately addressed to my satisfaction, you’ll surely lose me as a customer and in addition, I’ll lobby and team up with other affected subscribers to launch a class-action suit against Airtel Kenya. Thank you all.

Regards, Pete R Njenga

I understand the anger Mr. Njenga has for Airtel having personally lost several hundred of shillings on my Safaricom line to these unsolicited subscriptions. I would gladly join him in the class-action suit against Airtel but ensure Safaricom is included in the suit. Having said that, I want to ask a few questions:

1. If I operate a premium rate service the same way BrighterMonday is doing, how can Airtel or Safaricom stop me from auto-subscribing customers?

2. If I auto-subscribe customers, I deduct the airtime from their lines, can the mobile service provider be able to refund the said deductions given that the deductions are already in my account?

3. Aren’t we supposed to focus on technical/legal solutions that would bar the PRSPs from auto-subscribing customers?

As we answer those questions, it is prudent that you know that premium service thieves are out in the rampage waiting to eat into your airtime without your consent – it doesn’t really matter which mobile service provider you are on.

What is your opinion on the topic?
Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Analytics Ltd
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Odipo Riaga is a Technology Blogger interested in emerging tech such as VR and AR, AI, Life Extension, Exponential Biotech, Immortality, Cyborgs and many others.
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