IQ test led to premium texting: victim

More Canadians are coming forward with complaints about how they were duped into signing up for an expensive premium text messaging scheme.

More Canadians are coming forward with complaints about how they were duped into signing up for an expensive premium text messaging scheme.

David St. James of Montreal said he fell victim to the scheme in August after taking an IQ test on his Facebook page. After completing the quiz, he was instructed to enter his cellphone number, since the IQ score would be texted to him.

"Then I started receiving individual texts, trivia from different sources," St. James said. "They were cute at first. Then they started sending me pickup lines to use, which isn't really appropriate for me, a 60-year-old."

After three weeks of getting silly texts, he decided he wanted out, and with the help of his 17-year-old son, was able to put an end to it.

The shock came when he got a bill from his wireless provider, Bell Mobility, for $200 for texts alone.

This week, CBC news reported that many Canadians have been duped into receiving premium text messages merely by entering online contests or playing quizzes. They complained there was no indication the quizzes were connected to premium text services, which can cost up $5 per text.

According to most experts, there's nothing illegal about the premium texting companies. The firms are regulated by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association and can be investigated if a scam is suspected.

Marc Choma, a spokesman for the association, said customers cannot be "duped" into receiving text messages merely by entering online contests or playing quizzes.

In an email to CBC News, Choma said premium subscription services require customers to confirm their subscription twice to insure they are aware of the cost per message, the frequency of messages as well as the opt-out information.

He added that the user must reply to this message, or in some cases return to a website and enter a PIN number, in order to confirm the subscription. To cancel a service, the customer has to reply with the keyword STOP.

However, David Fewer, director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, suggests that premium texting companies walk a thin line.

"They're relying on the reality that people won't read the fine print," Fewer, whose organization is based at the University of Ottawa, said in an interview this week. "We would characterize this as bordering on spyware or malware."

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission has come down hard on such practices, saying premium texting companies cannot use deceptive or misleading practices to sign up clients, Fewer said.

"We have nothing like that in Canada," he said.

For instance, in Florida, web pages that offer premium text message services must place their prices and terms near the PIN code or the mobile phone number submit field. There also has to be a clear description of what the customer will receive.

In St. James's case, he thought he was receiving his IQ score, not pickup lines at a cost of $2.50 a pop.

A Quebec watchdog, the Union des Consommateurs, said it sometimes takes more than 10 clicks for a person to find the terms and conditions of these premium texting services.

"When they say you can't miss (the terms and conditions,) well, obviously I did," said St. James.

The other thing St. James noted was that while he signed with just one company, the premium text messages came from six different firms and were usually repeats of each other.

"I had to cancel with six different companies," he said.

It took a complaint to Bell Mobility and a 90-minute phone conversation for the situation to be dealt with. Bell agreed to wipe out any charges for the text messages.

St. James now chuckles over it being an IQ test that got him into trouble in the first place, saying he's not sure what his score should be.