Not having a crystal ball, Edmonton’s Andy Pearcey had no idea what his future would hold when he received an unwanted text in November 2012.
But he later discovered that for more than two years, Rogers had been charging him for a fortune-telling service he insists he never agreed to.
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He had paid almost $300, but said that when he asked Rogers for a refund, the telecom initially told him to take it up with the fortune teller, ifortune.
“I was livid,” Pearcey told CBC's Go Public.
“I had a contract with Rogers. Rogers were the people who were charging me. I did not have a contract with these other people, and I didn’t want to call them and do business with them.”
Extra $10 to keep quiet, customer says
Pearcey said a customer service agent eventually offered him $50 and was told if he wasn’t satisfied with that, he would have to call back the next day to speak with a manager.
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“He was even less helpful,” Pearcey said.
“He offered me [another] $10 if I didn’t do anything, if I didn’t call the media or talk to a lawyer. I told him this looks like a pretty shady business practice.”
Pearcey, a lawyer himself, wrote a complaint to Rogers’s legal department, but says he didn’t get a reply.
“I was incredulous that such a large, sophisticated corporation would react this way,” Pearcey said.
“This was an easy win for them. Just give me my money back and apologize and I would have gone away. But they said no.
“I think it’s immoral, unethical, completely wrong. And I think most people would agree with me.”
After Go Public requested an interview, Rogers offered to credit Pearcey’s account. A company spokesperson said it isn’t company policy to offer customers money in return for not speaking to the media and that Rogers was coaching its customer service representatives to make sure they understand its policies.
Billings began with unwanted text in 2012
Pearcey admits to having received texts from ifortune, but says he ignored them, treating them as unwanted spam.
“You don’t go and read your spam mail. Most people don’t. I certainly don’t have the time.
“I thought someone was trying to sell me something. I just ignored it and didn’t know they were taking $9.99 a month from me,” he said.
Rogers sends a monthly statement to Pearcey by email and automatically charges his family’s bill to his credit card.
Pearcey said with a busy career, a working spouse and three children under two, he doesn’t have time to go through his bill line by line every month.
He said he reviewed the total amount on the first page and didn’t notice any anomalies. Had he kept clicking the links in his electronic monthly statement, he would have seen a charge of $9.99 for “Buongiorno ifortune” — on Page 6.
“I didn’t look at the fine print and see what I was paying for. I guess I trusted Rogers.”
Rogers cuts ties to mystical website
Rogers declined a request for an interview and emailed a statement instead.
Rogers spokesman Kevin Spafford said the company was “immediately suspending all programs offered by the third-party vendor in question so we can fully investigate.
“We’ve apologized to the customer and are providing a full refund, which is our policy in cases like this,” Kevin Spafford wrote.
He said Rogers has a code of conduct for companies like ifortune “that mandates they use a double opt-in and the ability to opt-out anytime.”
Feds suing telecoms for misleading consumers
In September 2012, following a five-month investigation, the federal Competition Bureau announced it was suing Rogers, along with Bell, Telus and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association for $10 million each and demanding refunds for customers like Pearcey.
The bureau alleges the telecoms misled their customers into signing up for costly premium texting services and profited at their customers’ expense.
Telus, Bell and Rogers all say they no longer sell premium text message service themselves, though Spafford said Rogers continues to act as a billing agent for other providers when customers make purchases or subscribe to services on their device.
Spafford said Rogers will provide full refunds to other customers with the same complaint as Pearcey’s.
However, Rogers’s website still says it’s the customer’s responsibility to contact “third party content providers” directly regarding billing inquiries.
Rogers will not disclose how much it may profit from third-party texts, but says it charges a processing fee for acting as the billing agent.
Rogers’s share of the $9.99 that Pearcey was charged each month could be as much as 50 per cent, according to John Lawford of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which published a report on premium texting services in 2011.
Lawford says if Rogers profits from the texts that could put it in a conflict.
“I don’t think that it’s a lucrative sideline”, Lawford said.
“What I think you have though, is a disincentive to the telecom company to assist the customer ... because they are in the business of sharing the proceeds of the text message”, he said.
“It’s not fair to brush the customer off and send them on a wild-goose chase to find [the third-party company] when they are often trying to hide in the first place.”
After he called Go Public, Rogers offered to credit Pearcey’s account $283.22 .
“That’s progress, but I still don’t think it goes far enough,” he said, adding he was told he would still have to contact the fortune-telling website to avoid being charged in the future.
Rogers agrees to refund, cancellation
Pearcey said he didn’t want to have to remain a Rogers customer in order to collect his credit and he wanted the company to apologize.
Pearcey said he found many stories similar to his on internet complaints boards.
“They know people have been complaining, they’ve done nothing until now. That, to me, suggests they didn’t think there was anything wrong until now,” he said.
“They need to apologize, not only to me but to all other customers who have had this experience. I think they need to pay everybody back everything that they owe.”
Rogers later agreed to give Pearcey a total refund and allow him to cancel his contract without a fee.
“It took a lot longer that it should have, but I’m happy they’re ultimately going to refund my money,” Pearcey said.
“It shows that they’re concerned about their public image.”