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Cell users angry at pricey texting scheme

A number of Canadians complain they've have been duped into signing up for pricey text message schemes after entering their cellphone number while playing games and quizzes.

A number of Canadians complain they've have been duped into signing up for pricey text message schemes after entering their cellphone number while playing games and quizzes.

Unbeknownst to them, they're actually signing up for something called Premium Text Messages. These are messages you pay for in addition to standard text message fees.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association regulates the premium text companies and said everything is above board, but adds that consumers have to read the fine print before signing up.

However, a Quebec consumer watchdog said sometimes the fine print is a little too fine.

The Union des Consommateurs has received several complaints from cellphone users mystified as to why they started racking up charges after taking an online quiz.

"It’s very difficult for the consumer to find the terms and conditions. We have done it for various websites and often you have to click 17 or 18 times before you get to the terms and conditions," said Yannick Labelle, a consumer protection analyst with the Union des Consommateurs.

Mila Magno of Mississauga, Ont., knows all too well. When she recently opened her cellphone bill, she saw she'd been dinged $26 for 13 "premium text messages."

"I'd been had without even knowing it," she told CBC News. "I had to pay $26 for something I never subscribed to."

Magno considers herself tech-savvy, having worked in the IT department at her former job. She has every tech toy in the house and an unlimited texting plan, which is why she was surprised to see charges for premium services show up on her bill.

She was able to trace the charges back to an online IQ test she took.

It seems that's how most customers are lured in. Premium text messages often start with online quizzes and games, some offering prizes.

Using PIN signs you up

After answering a few questions, you're asked to enter your cellphone number on a website. You then receive — by text — a PIN number. Once you enter that PIN number on the website, you've subscribed.

After that, messages with more trivia and skill testing questions start coming in and the charges start racking up — up to $5 per message.

While there's nothing illegal about the contests, the Union des Consommateurs called it borderline.

"It could be more evident that this is a subscription service for which you will pay," said Labelle.

"One of the questions we have is why isn't it written as big as everything else? How come it's not written up there that it is $2 per question, that you will receive four questions and that it's going to cost you between $18 and $50?" said Labelle.

The CBC's Krista Erickson checked out the texting service for herself, with the help of Labelle.

Erickson noted that after entering her PIN number she received a text stating that if she no longer wished to participate, she should text 'STOP.'

However, Labelle said many of the complaints come from people who had tried that, without success.

"We have heard that many people have done it and it doesn't work. They have to do it another time, and get in touch with their service provider to say, 'You told me to stop, and it's not working'," said Labelle.

The wireless association reiterated that it's really up to consumers to educate themselves about exactly what they're signing up for.

"It's a simple process. It's very easy to use and we've set it up in a way to protect consumers," said Bernard Lord, head of the CWTA.

Lord said companies offering the contests must meet strict guidelines and criteria.

"This is a business transaction where people can sign up for the service. They have to sign up twice before they get the service," Lord said.

However, Mila Magno doesn't accept that.

"I never subscribed. I never did [click], 'I accept'," she said.

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