Most of us have experienced this.  You get your cell phone bill and see odd charges from places like “Thumb Play” for $9.99.  Where did this come from?  You never authorised this charge!  You immediately contact your service provider and call foul.

Here’s what’s going on.  Every service provider has agreements with third party providers that supply things like ring tones, graphics, games, news feeds, etc.  These providers will tempt you with a free ring tone for example, usually from a web site or television commercial.  Downloading this offer usually subscribes you to a subscription agreement.  When you get those fun little surveys from Facebook and you enter your phone number to get the results, guess what?  You just agreed to pay a monthly fee.

Most of these third party companies are honest and a great way to supplement your ring tone, game or graphic library on your phone.  Some, however, are a little sneaky about it.  Some will send random offers to phones using the same random dialer telemarketers use.

How do you prevent it?  Here are some tips.

1.  Read the terms and conditions:  Honestly, how many of us do this?  They are long and boring but they will let you know what to expect before you download that fancy frog ring tone onto your phone.

2.  You get an “Are You Sure?” message:  The Mobile Marketing Associasion requires a “Double opt-in.”  So if you get a message asking if you are sure you want the item before downloading it, chances are there will be charges in your future.  Of course, not saying yes means you will not get that game you want too.

3.  Educate all users:  Let your kids and other family members that have cell phones on your account know about these things.  Children are the main culprits here and it is essential they understand “free” does not always mean no charges.

4.  Short Codes:  Getting a text message from a 4 or 5 digit number is not an error.  These are called short codes and are how the third party companies send text messages.  If you get one, do not ignore it, immediately respond with the word “STOP” to prevent any charges.

5.  Call your cell phone provider:  Most providers have the ability to block all charges from third party providers but you must ask for it.  Providers make money from these companies and do not want to block them unless absolutely necessary.  By law, they also have to refund the charges, especially if an underage person agreed to it.  A person under age cannot legally agree to a contract.  However, do not expect an immediate credit. The charge is generally refunded by a request to the company that charged it to ensure all taxes the provider paid are returned as well.  The provider may also require you to block future third party downloads before refunding the original.

6.  Review your bill:  This is a big one.  I get calls every day from customers that say they never check their bill and just make the payments.  When they discover they have been charged by some unknown company called “Mobile Messenger” for the past 8 months they demand a refund.  Cell phone providers will only go back 2 months for credits, anything beyond that is valid, no matter what or who caused the charge.  This is an agreement you made with the provider when you got your cell phones.

One final note.  You know that commercial for “KGB” that tells you to send a text message to 542542 with any question and they will respond with the answer?  You will see a charge of $0.99 for each answer they send to you!  My advise, use Google!