Company fined 1,190,000 EUR for text messages
“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 some companies may 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 protected], or (3) by calling their listed phone number. 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 “[email protected]” provides nearly 20 other results of websites listing the same billing 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 allegedly fined over 1,190,000 EUR in a case where they were allegedly 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. Reports from consumers stated that they allegedly ran into their ads online, leading them to believe they were playing a game. Allegedly, they were unknowingly being subscribed to their fee-based service. That seems to sound 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 protected], 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 allegedly found liable and fined 686,000 EUR for misleading text messaging services.
Who is directly behind the services of Gamazing, Appsdorado, and other subscription-based services is unknown, but many users claim to unknowingly be charged weekly premium fees. While the direct connection between these services is not completely known, it is clear that the practices themselves are shady at best.
The use of the [email protected] 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 often incurs additional charges. Although, the bevy of complaints from users does have mobile providers raising their eyebrows and looking into these premium rate subscription services.
Current regulations seem to not be enough, as these companies continue to skirt any responsibility. The SMS marketing industry appears to have 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 helps remove spam.