How to avoid unwanted cell phone costs
Heading up customer inquiries in the Value-Added-Services industry has its challenges. Not least of all is the influx of calls from disgruntled subscribers whose cell phone statements have suddenly gone into orbit with the addition of services they had not thought they had subscribed to. Or had they?
Here’s a typical scenario that is impacting households across the country (even the world): Cindy has 101 things going on: Buy flowers. Fetch laundry. Pick the girls up from hockey practice. Ring her hubby to chat about the PTA this evening. Check in with Mum. But first there’s Andrew, nagging for her undivided attention while she makes a conference call to her colleagues. She hands over her smartphone and just like that, he’s off. The credit card statement arrives at the end of the month and her heart drops when she sees the balance owed: R3 000 charged to her App Store ID in the space of a few of hours, or a whopping R5 000 on her cell phone bill. While she managed to get important work done in peace, she paid the price in game downloads. There’s nothing novel about Cindy’s startling experience though.
There’s a new credit facility in your handbag or your back pocket – and it has buttons. Where buttons are involved, kids will be only too happy to dive into the online spending action. Call centre managers like Annelize Breedt, at Mira Networks, a busy VAS aggregator handling premium services, are asking parents: “When last did you have a chat with your teen, tween or even toddler about what goes on when they’re hidden behind your or their own smart device, plugging away on Angry Birds or Candy Crush?”
The convergence of Internet and mobile media has transformed purchasing possibilities. But lest it’s forgotten: a) kids are certainly not as naïve as anyone thinks they are, and b) are accessing online shops via mobile devices as naturally as getting homework done or going to the movies with friends.
In a time when most five-year-olds could show users how to navigate smartphones, and their library of apps and online services, there’s limited control over what they can and cannot access through these internet-enabled gadgets, judging by the number of queries where users admit that the new subscription service is running on their child’s mobile. Gone are the days of password protected accounts that only parents could control. Tots are now harnessing their own spending power at the touch of a button every time they purchase another mind-mushing game to babysit them while their parents are occupied with work commitments and social lives.
Because the engineering behind mobile app stores are geared towards getting the contract holder (in this case, Mummy or Daddy) to furnish their credit card details once, and then save their password, 'Voila!' once is enough and all it takes to turn tiny Tim into a shopaholic. All kids have to do is tap, tap and away they go with all measure of charges linked directly to the enlisted credit card that is an unwitting accomplice. It’s even simpler if the subscribed-to service has a WASP billing mechanism as costs are charged directly to the cell phone account or airtime balance.
Because smartphones are becoming more affordable, a child’s first mobile phone is likely to be a smart device. Alternatively, they are getting Mum and Dad’s hand-me-downs. Either way, these phones bring with their enhanced capabilities, a plethora of opportunities for their mobile use to go very, very wrong.
Even with double-opt-in pages for subscription premium services, it only takes a few taps (even from a child barely old enough to read), to agree to subscriptions they don’t fully understand, and certainly cannot afford.
Breedt, a mother herself, and who has been handling queries for six years, says “While it seems common sense to an adult, it’s important that we actively teach our children the primary purpose of their new phone, which is to contact, or to be contactable by their parents, caregivers and then friends, and that anything else will probably involve an additional cost.”
The cell phone, which has the potential to replace the television as a babysitting alternative, comes with even more risks. We live in an age of ‘all access,’ which makes it even more paramount for parents to make their little ones aware of the precautions they must take to protect their identity and spending habits while Internet browsing.
Ultimately, it is a parent’s responsibility to ensure their child knows the rules. A child cannot easily walk into a bank and open a credit card account, so why do we so easily entrust an open-ended credit facility at their fingertips? Breedt concludes: “Responsible mobile use is the key to managing unwanted mobile costs and nasty surprises. Particularly as we head into the festive season and the school holidays.”
About Mira Networks
Mira Networks is a pioneer in wireless application services (WASPs) and one of South Africa’s oldest and most trusted mobile VAS aggregators. Not to be confused with information gatherers and disseminators, Mira Networks is a technologically advanced infrastructure network, which acts as an information switch between the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), Content Service Providers (CSPs) and consumers (Subscribers). It offers a variety of messaging and billing solutions to clients, allowing them to seamlessly connect with subscribers who use either feature or smartphones. With its team of in-house developers, Mira Networks leads the way in quickly adapting to market conditions, providing professional and cost effective services throughout the value chain. Visit www.miranetworks.net.
Press release by Networx Public Relations.