Nearly 25,000 people who were charged to receive junk text messages from a company flouting the regulator’s rules are to get refunds worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Pro Money Holdings Limited – which operated a service called Comphouse Competitions – has been banned from the market for at least five years and fined £50,000 by the Phone-paid Services Authority, which governs premium-rate services charged to phone bills.
The announcement comes after months of work by The Mail on Sunday to highlight the fact that consumers are being charged large sums to receive text messages they never wanted or asked for.
Ripped-off: Paula Kelly was charged £370 for a service she did not know she was paying for
People who dispute the validity of these charges often face an uphill battle to get their money back.
Mobile network operators often claim responsibility lies with ‘service providers’ sending the texts. These companies in turn may refuse a refund, saying the customer legitimately signed up and simply had not read the terms and conditions.
In this latest example of malpractice, customers were cold-called and charged £4.50 a month for entry into a competition they did not sign up to.
The owner of the company also admitted giving some of the prizes to his daughter’s boyfriend.
Messages would have appeared to come from the short code 82225 and the service began in March last year. It was suspended on June 29 and billing stopped on July 11.
Battle:David Jennings traced charges of £450
Customers who spotted this number and the added expense on their bills complained to the regulator, which opened an investigation.
It concluded that Pro Money Holdings failed to provide evidence of consent to bill consumers or secure consent to market itself to consumers via cold calling and texts. It also failed to disclose information to the regulator or provide prompt, easy or fair access to refunds. It is also accused of providing false and misleading information during the course of the regulator’s investigation.
The company must now repay all of its customers, regardless of whether they have applied for a refund or not.
A spokesman for the Phone-paid Services Authority says: ‘Our Code of Practice is clear. Consumers must not be billed for content, goods or services without their consent. That is a basic principle, and the company accepted that the service was not abiding by it.’
HOW WILL CUSTOMERS BE REPAID?
Pro Money Holdings must fully refund all 24,652 customers affected. This will be done by transferring money via customers’ mobile network operators.
Alternatively, customers might receive a code via text, which needs to be taken to a Post Office, where payment can be issued.
The regulator adds: ‘Our enforcement team has power to compel service providers to pay refunds and uses necessary means to ensure consumers are refunded.’
People seeking redress from Pro Money Holdings should now have a smoother experience compared with some others who have struggled to get their money back or are still waiting. Paula Kelly, who we featured earlier this month, is still pressing for a reimbursement of around £370 for texts relating to a competition service she did not know she was paying for.
We also recently wrote about David Jennings, a 62-year-old businessman from Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands, who had to battle for a refund after paying weekly fees for a competition he knew nothing about.
He only became aware of it when closely inspecting his mobile bill following an overseas trip. He traced charges going back two years, which amounted to £450. He says: ‘Don’t let anyone say this is small beer – these guys are making a lot of money on the fringes of legality.’
Way to deal with costly messages
If you are paying to receive spam texts you never asked for, contact your mobile network provider to demand a refund. If it denies responsibility, ask for the name and contact information of the company sending the messages.
Complain to this company in writing and ask for both a refund and proof that you signed up.
The company may refuse – but remember there is strength in numbers, so it is worth making an official complaint to the regulator. If enough people complain, it will investigate. Though it may take time, this can result in firms being forced to repay those affected.
Visit psauthority.org.uk or call 0300 303 0020. There is also a ‘number checker’ on the website so you can find out which company is sending the messages.
In the meantime, do not simply delete the texts. If the short code can be traced to a real company, reply to that number with the word ‘STOP’. This should put an end to any further contact from that service.
Steer clear of online promotions that sign you up to regular subscriptions, which are then charged to your phone bill.