After writing two articles on the scumbags who run text message fraud schemes, it occurred to me that I never check my AT&T phone bill - what if I'm one of the people that Jason Hope and his elaborate text messaging scams is affecting?
So I decided to check my online bills. checking my latest bill, sure-enough, I found a subscription charge of $9.99:
It's worth noting that above information is at the VERY BOTTOM OF MY 38 PAGE BILL! I was blown away. Here I am feeling sorry for the millions of people who are falling for these scams and not noticing the charges on their bill and it turns out, I'm one of the suckers!
How far back did this go? I checked every one of my online bills all the way back to January of 2010. The subscription charge by these scumbags started on my May 2010 billing cycle:
$9.99 each month for May, June, July, August, September, August, November, December, January (2011) and February. A total of $99.90 of charges that had gone unnoticed on MY BILLS! Unbelievable.
I got on the phone with AT&T and as I write this article, I've been on the phone with them for a total of 1 hour and 29 minutes. I'm currently on hold. Here is how my interactions with AT&T went:
- Michael, the first Customer Service Rep has been a victim of these scams himself. He sounded like a young guy in his 20s. He started explaining that "I agree it's a scam" but then he started to blame himself for when he was scammed saying "I must have signed up for it when I applied for some scholarships and I didn't read the fine print." I was blown away. Michael seemed to blame himself for the scam! I couldn't believe what I was hearing. He went ahead and refunded 2 months of charges for me, but he also said that they couldn't go beyond 3 months. I then asked what we need to do to stop this company from charging anybody else - ever! He said there was nothing they could do. I asked if they have a fraud department and they do. Michael transferred me to the fraud department.
- Cory in the Fraud department, whom I must have just woken up, explained to me that there was nothing he could do about text messaging fraud. His fraud department was to address issues that was about falsely created cell phone accounts, not fraudulent text messages. He then proceeded to transfer me back to customer service because he said "if customer service can't help you, nobody can!"
- This time around, I got a more sympathetic young girl, Angelique, in customer service. She loved the fact that I was trying to stop this scam from affecting all of AT&T's customers. In fact, she proceeded to refund me all 10 months worth of charges. She did inform me that there was not much she could do about stopping the scams, but after some encouragement from me that "if we don't stop it, who will?" she agreed to explain the situation to her boss and see where it would go.
- Rebecca was Anjelique's boss. She was not on board with our plans. She explained to me that they were "already investigating this," which turned out to be a bunch of BS as it was later confirmed by Rebecca's boss. There is no investigation that my complaints (or anybody else's for that matter) has triggered. After several minutes of Rebecca explaining to me that it's out of her hands, she agreed to transfer me to her boss.
- Jennifer was Rebecca's boss. She was determined to be my last stop. She put her foot down that there is nothing AT&T can do about such fraudulent charges, except to credit them back to customers who complain. Really? Really! My conversation with her was very informative and she claimed that AT&T does not make a single cent on any of the text message charges (update: I have confirmed through my own sources that claim is 100% false - the wireless companies can get up to 50% of the fees charged through text messages). That is completely bogus. The conversation is definitely worth listening to (Listen below). She also claims that AT&T has no way to stop text messages coming from known scammers (update: I have confirmed that too is bogus - in fact, the Mobile Messaging Association created just for that purpose).
The reason my call with AT&T took more than 90 minutes is because I was trying to stop "Textea", the "content provider" that had been charging me $9.99 for 10 months, from being able to continue to operate and charge other AT&T customers. That proved to be an insurmountable challenge.
I cut the full recording of my conversations with AT&T to just a few minutes with the last person in line, Jennifer. Remember, this is after they had already credited me for the charges. They no longer wanted to have anything to do with me. My exchange with Jennifer from AT&T will go down as one of the highlights of this investigation:
It's pretty incredible. I'm reminded, despite what Jennifer claims, AT&T makes hundreds of millions of dollars from the pass-through of such scam charges. So what is their incentive to stop the crooks? They have none. Just the opposite, in fact. They have incentive to let the scams continue and turn a blind eye.
I decided to investigate "Textea", the supposed "Content Provider" that has been charging me $9.99 for 10 months. AT&T could not provide me with any contact information for this content provider. Fantastic! Some Google searches revealed the web site http://www.textea.com. The site, which is in Spanish, provides a 1-877-889-1506 phone number to call. The automated system IS IN SPANISH! Are you kidding me? Pressing 2 gets me an English prompt and of course, there is no way to reach a human operator. When you choose the option to stop their subscription, the prompt switches back to Spanish. Nice! Nobody can stop these guys? Seriously? We just have to put up with this crap?
I can't help but wonder if Jason Hope and the network of companies that he has created to scam people are also behind Textea.com and I didn't even get an invite to his $500,000 party that I helped pay for. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to investigate these matters without the cooperation of the wireless phone companies.