(I am writing this because it is National Consumer Protection Week http://www.consumer.gov/ncpw/ Feb 4-10 in hopes it might help someone else out there)
This is the story of a 4 month ongoing saga with my cell phone carrier and a 3rd party Texting company. You may be in the this situation or you may know someone in this situation and I can assure you the light at the end of the tunnel is very dim.
Over the last few years we will call them Text Entertainment companies (aka short code providers) have been inundating childrens TV stations with advertising for "Free Ringers", Jokes, Horoscope and other types of entertainment content. The companies tell you to just text a phrase to a 5 digit number and you will get a "Free ringer" or other item. In tiny print the ads state that you are signing up for a service and will be billed a weekly or monthly amount on your phone bill for extra provided content.
Back in October of 2006 one such company was advertising heavily on Cartoon Network. My 16 year old son sent a text to this company to get a "Free Ringer" and was signed up for such a service. I was shocked the following month when I received my PCS bill and it was $40 more than it usually was. When I got to my sons portion of the phone bill, I immediately saw that there were multiple charges under text messaging to a five digit number. I am not going to put this number in this article because I do not want anyone calling it and getting into the same boat I did.
My first response was to call my carrier (Sprint) and ask how to stop the messages. I was told to text STOP or QUIT to the the 5 digit number. We tried this to no avail and the messages just kept right on coming. Another month went by more charges, I called my carrier again and asked to have text messaging turned off for the telephone. I was told that even if I turned off text messaging the messages and charges would not stop because it was a "Premium Service". I had to contact the company to stop the messages. I asked for the number and name of the company from Sprint and was told that they could not give it to me. We tried to text STOP, Quit and whatever else we could think of to the number but the messages still kept on coming along with the charges. More hours on the phone with Sprint reps asking about the company got me no satisfaction. I refused to pay my bill until it was taken care of. Another month went by, the messages and charges kept coming and with no help from Sprint I finally cancelled the phone by porting it over to an ATT account. That stopped the messages, at least from the Text entertainment company that is.
Now came the collections calls from my phone carrier. Daily at 8 am. I told them over and over again that I would pay my bill in full as soon as the charges for the text messages were reversed, removed or deducted. I got nowhere. After 5 days in a row of spending over an hour on the phone with them and asking to get to a supervisor I finally got to a person who could give me the information about the company that was sending the text messages. Three months after I had asked for it! The company name was FunkyFones. Calling the 800 number gave me a choice to stop messages or "other". Pressing the other choice got me hung up on. I jumped on the internet to find out more about this company and to see if anyone else had my problems. I learned I was not alone! The company is apparently a subsidiary of Jamster which has a pending class action suit against it ( http://cmwcomplex.com/jamster.htm) I found out about the lawsuit from http://www.jamsterscam.com/more_stories/ which is a page with a story about people in the same situation I am in. At the bottom of the page there is a listing of key contacts of the different Cell providers CSC Representatives that may be able to help.
I have also, in reading the above listed lawsuit filed, learned that the phone companies do indeed profit from this service yet they appear to be ignorant of any information about them when it comes to trying to resolve billing disputes with these companies. At least until you press them for it over and over.
More searching on the web found an excellent resource page that lists some of the web sites for many of these "short code" providers that may assist people in getting out of these services. That url is http://www.usshortcodeswhois.com/
Our only defense is to talk to our children about these miscreant short code providers and contact as many news and print organizations as possible to get the word out about them. Please pass this on to people whom you think could help do this.
Update 8/22/2008 Sprint is still sending me $4000 (yes that is thousands)collection notices for this garbage. I reply to every one that I will pay the $400 I owe and only that as soon as they send me a bill for the proper amount and remove the charges. I get nowhere. This is criminal.