Fair Go: Should you have to pay to reply to marketing text messages?

Fair Go has discovered that some consumers might be paying to opt-out of marketing text messages – without their knowledge – which is not only not fair, it’s not legal.

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We look at the modern day circular and charges around them. Source: Fair Go

Premium text messages are like the modern-day circular – but way more effective.

More than one million premium text messages are sent to New Zealand phone numbers every day.

The companies that market them say a text is read within 90 seconds of being received.

Consumers are often given the option to stop receiving future messages by replying "STOP" to unsubscribe. If you are unsubscribing or opting-out you shouldn’t have to pay to do so.

Letitia Lindeque of Mosgiel came to Fair Go when she unsubscribed from a number of marketing text services and noticed: "There was an extra nine cents on my bill and I saw the charge and I thought that’s not right," she said.

One of the places Letitia was unsubscribing from was clothing store, Caroline Eve. She asked them if they got the money, they said they didn’t, and had no idea there was a charge.

So, she contacted her provider 2 Degrees who initially told her if it costs anything, they’d refund it, but then said they made an error and there may be a charge.

But Internal Affairs clearly states the practice of charging cell phone users to unsubscribe to marketing texts is not legal.

The companies that businesses use to send the text messages, called aggregators, say the money being charged by telcos is not passed on to them.

2 Degrees told Fair Go in a statement: "We collect money from the customer based on our commercial arrangement with the aggregator.

"In this case it appears the short code (four digit phone number) is set up as one that comes with a cost to the consumer but the business has chosen to use it as a (marketing) opt out. That's why the consumer got charged when they opted out."

Fortunately, if there’s confusion over codes, there’s another way to make sure consumers don’t carry the cost for opting out.

2 Degrees explained: "We can’t look at the content of text messages due to privacy considerations … we rely on receiving lists from the aggregators with the details of those who have opted out and require a refund. When we get that through, we process the refund."

In Letitia’s situation, 2 Degrees are still waiting on the list from the aggregator. Fair Go will be keeping on this.

Caroline Eve said it was changing its processes as a result of the Fair Go investigation.

"We are changing how we send texts to our customers to completely ensure they will not be charged, and we will not be sending any further texts until this is the case."

If you’re worried you might be charged for something when you shouldn’t be – check Fair Go’s Facebook page for details on how you can find out.