Earlier this week I gave a talk to an association of retired folk, loosely titled, “The 10 Most Dangerous Consumer Assumptions”.

Before I got up to speak, it had become the “11 Most Dangerous…” thanks to a comment made by the association chairman about phishing e-mails while she was introducing me.

Question time lengthened the list even further. One woman was livid that she hasn’t been refunded for what she claimed was an unauthorised subscription to so-called “value added” data content over a year ago, the culprit allegedly being Wireless Application Services Provider (Wasp) Mira Networks.

She assumed that when she managed to cancel it, she’d get a refund, but that never happened.

The dangerous assumption, when it comes to Wasp, is that as long as you delete every text you get that looks like it’s Wasp-related, you won’t get stung. Big mistake. And that advice comes from an arguably unlikely source – Mira Networks, a company which is no stranger to rogue Wasp controversy.

In a recent charm offensive press release, the company gave consumers tips on how to avoid “mystery” billing.

Number two was “Read all your SMS messages”.

“What you might have regarded as spam, could be an informational message reminding you of a service that you are subscribed to.

“These messages will contain the name of the service, the charge and the frequency, the customer care number and instructions to cancel the service should you wish to do so. They are sent on a monthly basis.

“A common misconception is that deleting these messages will cancel the charges. This is incorrect. Instructions to unsubscribe will be contained in the message text.”

Mira doesn’t provide any actual content itself – as an “aggregator”, the company provides the platform and handles billing for the companies which generate the content; “value added” things such as ringtones, horoscopes and porn.

Such aggregators are the technical intermediaries between the content providers, the networks and their subscribers

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“Double opt-in” mechanisms introduced by the networks in recent years have cut down on the volume of “auto subscription” complaints, but they haven’t dried up altogether.

Many people get caught when they acquire a new pre-paid cellphone number, not realising the number has been “recycled”, and was previously subscribed to a Wasp service.

No sooner do they load airtime, than it’s whipped out, thanks to the inherited subscription.

Mira Networks’ general manager, Deon Odendaal, concentrated on the non-inherited unwanted subscriptions in the press release.

“Because we all live fairly fast-paced lives, it is not uncommon for consumers to inadvertently subscribe to something they either don’t really want or, cannot remember doing in the first place – despite the double opt in prompts that have been implemented as added security.”

His other tips?

Restrict access to your phone by not divulging your SIM code or phone password to anyone.

“Having a ‘firewall’ can prevent young children, who are often the perpetrators of unwanted downloads and unknown subscriptions, from subscribing you to services you had no idea about until they popped up on your cellphone bill.”

Post-paid customers would do well to get that itemised bill and scrutinise every line of it for “mystery” charges.

But even without that “bill adding” extra, all the networks provide DIY ways for subscribers to check for Wasp activity on their SIMs, as elaborated on previous Consumer Talk columns.

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How to dispute a Wasp billing

To find out which aggregator is involved in a “welcome to...” text you get, enter the five-digit short code in the text into smscode.co.za . If you can’t find the short code, contact your cellphone service provider.

Contact the aggregator and ask them to give you the name of the content provider, then lodge a complaint with the aggregator, demanding proof of how and when you subscribed to the service.

If you are still dissatisfied, lodge a complaint with the body which self-regulates the Wasp industry, the Wireless Application Service Providers Association, or Waspa. You can find its complaint form on its website: www.waspa.org.za

* Mira’s call centre operates during office hours: 086 110 MIRA (6472)

Or e-mail: [email protected] or [email protected]