Have you ever felt like your wireless carrier was ripping you off? That’s exactly what happened to thousands of former customers of three leading Canadian-based telecommunication companies. The Competition Bureau, a telecom watchdog, brought the investigation to focus in late 2015, when it challenged Telus to refund customer for charges made for premium text messaging services like ringtones and trivia games. The Bureau were originally seeking $10 million in customer rebates, but settled after Telus, a Vancouver-based telecom giant, offered $7.34 million, the largest-ever settlement reached by the organization.
According to one report, while Telus did not personally gain from these premium services, they did support advertising (pop-up ads, apps and on social media) that misled their customers into signing up for subscriptions costing up to $40. After a five-month investigation, the bureau said third party providers collected these fees. Current and previous customers of Telus will be contacted soon to collect their rebates.
Score one for the consumers!
Meanwhile, there’s other shady behavior to report from our telecom neighbors to the north. In addition to the Telus investigation, the bureau is also investigating Rogers and Bell, for similar illegal charges collected by a third party. In March of 2015, Rogers agreed to pay $5.42 million in damages. The Bell investigation is ongoing.
Lessons for Consumers
There are a few major takeaways from this telecom debacle that everyone should pay attention to. First, let this be a lesson to everyone enrolled in a carrier’s auto pay system. Never looking at a bill or service charges could mean you’re getting charged for services you don’t know about. If you don’t look for these fraudulent charges, you’re only going to notice them when they’ve impacted your checking account. Make an effort to observe and understand your usage fees and extra charges each month to avoid accidentally paying a third party for ringtones and apps you don’t want.
Also, this event serves as a huge wake-up call to people in Canada (as well as the U.S.) that these large telecommunications conglomerates are trouble if not supervised or regulated. The carriers are conduits used to exploit their customers. While they get slapped on the hand with a hefty fine, third party offenders are none the worse for wear. It’s important that illegal charges like the ones in Canada be taken seriously by the general public.
In a time when cell phones have become less a personal preference and more a living necessity, it’s imperative that the public is protected against the potential wrongdoing of the telecommunication companies at home and abroad. We rely on them every day to make our lives run smoothly, each carrier is extremely profitable, and yet they would allow this kind of behavior to occur again and again.
Until we can ensure regulatory action to prevent these types of fees and charges, all individuals should be looking at their cell phone bills to ensure they don’t become victims.