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“FreeMsg: You have subscribed to Gamazing, first 24H free, then £4.50 Weekly from Izesoft until you text STOP to 85074. HELP? 02036270110.”
This message and many others like it have been flooding people’s phone inboxes. Beginning in August, Shortcodes.org began receiving reports of these messages from a gaming service named Gamazing. Wait, companies can’t just text me if I never signed up for their services, right? Yes, if they are following regulation, but it seems that nefarious companies like Gamazing have found other “alternative” methods to spread their services.
Shortcodes.org is a community-driven short code directory that allows users to report SMS messages received from short code numbers. It’s a free service used to verify which companies are sending messages and if they are following industry regulation. Created in early 2017, Shortcodes.org has accrued over 600,000 short code numbers and thousands of user reports.
Since the reports began, Shortcodes.org has received over 50 reports from users stating they were unknowingly subscribed to the service and being charged a fee upwards of £4.50 (US $5.93) a week without actually having signed up. Many had no idea how this was happening. One “subscriber” stated that when they pulled their phone out of their bag “an ad page opened in Chrome, for a company called Gamazing” and after, received the message notifying them of their subscription without ever entering their number. Was this a simple mistake that could easily be fixed? In theory, but for those receiving these messages, it was not a simple “STOP” response that was enough.
Gamazing’s website proudly states: “With Gamazing you can play the latest and best premium games on any device, anywhere and anytime,” also displaying multiple pictures of games that don’t actually link to any content. Below this is a section of “frequently asked questions,” which states how one can unsubscribe from their SMS service. Apparently, there are 3 ways to unsubscribe from their service and stop being charged: (1) by texting the word “STOP” to 85074, (2) by emailing your mobile number to their support team at email@example.com, or (3) by calling 02036270110. Many users have reported that texting the “STOP” keyword does not unsubscribe them. Calling their number goes directly to a pre-recorded voicemail, which doesn’t return your calls. Emailing support apparently isn’t helpful either.
If you visit the rbilling.net website, you will be shown an error message stating that their service is unavailable. Why would Gamazing provide a support email to a website that is out of service? A quick google search of “firstname.lastname@example.org” provides nearly 20 other results of websites listing the same rbilling support email address as Gamazing. One result is another “popular” mobile services platform, Appsdorado, a website that touts they are the “go-to platform for the latest in Android Apps.” Stated at the bottom of their website, the service is operated by a company called Artiq Mobile B.V. In 2015, Artiq Mobile was fined over 1,190,000 EUR in a case where they were found liable of charging for misleading text messaging services under a platform known as “Celldorado”.
Behind the Celldorado tradename, were Dutch-based companies Artiq Mobile BV and Blinck International BV. Blinck International was later rebranded as CLIQ Digital BV. Consumers ran into their ads online, leading them to believe they were playing a game. In actuality, they were unknowingly being subscribed to their fee-based service. That sounds very similar to the reports consumers are making against Gamazing’s services as well.
Remember the support email that initially linked Gamazing to Appsdorado? When you send a message to email@example.com, you receive an automated response stating that you have contacted a service provided by “Mobbill”. Mobbill’s website states that they offer a direct carrier billing service that offers merchants a “single API integration to provide mobile payment technologies in different countries…to ensure that consumers are easily able to pay for any digital content.” Also worth noting, Mobbill’s homepage proudly displays the Appsdorado and CLIQ Digital logos for all to see. These two companies are the same behind the previous Celldorado lawsuit, where they were found liable and fined 686,000 EUR for misleading text messaging services.
The registrant records for mobbill.com shows that the registration organization is Reporo Limited, the same company that registered both reporo.com (adult ad network) and mobads.com (mainstream ad network). Both ad networks combined serve billions of ad impressions per month and are even ranked in the top 10 mobile ad networks globally. They serve over 45 billion mobile ads per month, across 130 countries, operating under the parent company MobileWebAdz Ltd.
The firstname.lastname@example.org email and the Mobbill services aren’t only linked to Gamazing and Appsdorado, but to over a dozen additional services which all charge weekly subscription fees. Two of these are adult services “XXXvideovault” and “Bindassbabes”, which coincidentally also use the Mobbill service email “email@example.com”. Not only is the support email the same, they also coincidentally share the same listed physical address: 57 Independent Place, London E8 2HE. Another company, named Skibro Technologies Limited, shares the same registered address as both adult services (Update: As of November 9th, Skibro has changed their registered address). The listed director and co-owner for Skibro is Mr. Kieran O’Keeffe, who also happens to be the chairman of companies Mobbill, Mobads, and Reporo.
Whether or not MobileWebAdz is directly behind the services of Gamazing, Appsdorado, and other subscription based services, all are using the Mobbill platform to charge unknowing users weekly premium fees. While the direct connection between MobileWebAdz and these services is not completely known, it is clear that the practices themselves are shady at best. The use of the firstname.lastname@example.org email, short code numbers, and their customer service numbers have been continually reported to be of no assistance. A lucky few have managed to get their mobile providers to block SMS messages and refund the charges. Sadly, most others have had to heed the advice of their providers and change their mobile number, which incurs additional charges. Although, the bevy of complaints from users do have mobile providers raising their eyebrows and looking into these premium rate subscription services.
Current regulations obviously aren’t enough, as these companies continue to skirt any responsibility. The SMS marketing industry has left room for plenty of unethical practices, and this seems to require a shift to a new style of marketing, one which can be regulated much better and completely removes spam.