Beware the scams that charge you £1.50 per unsolicited text they send YOU

Have you been scammed by text? Find out how (incredibly) companies can text your phone without permission and take money from you!

Last night my phone pinged to alert me to a text from the number 88101. Here’s what it said:

FreeMsg: Thank you for joining Everydaysaves for £1.50 per alert from gothamiax.com until you text STOP to 88101. HELP? 01732927261.

Trethowans
Trethowans

This text was followed immediately by a second text from the same number informing me of a deal on Etihad flights.

I was confused; I hadn’t knowingly signed up for any alerts and I wasn’t planning any trips, so haven’t visited any travel deal websites. I had no idea why I had received these texts, and they were not welcome.

If you ignore these scams they keep charging you

My first instinct was that it was some kind of phishing scam, and to ignore it. But the £1.50 charge per text threat worried me. Could they really just text me out of the blue, with no permission and charge me? I decided to find out.

I didn’t want to risk texting STOP and get charged an extortionate amount for the text (perhaps that was the scam…). Nor did I want to call a number that a quick search revealed as possibly ‘dangerous’:

So I ignored the number in the text and contacted my mobile provider, Three. They confirmed that there were indeed charges on my account.

They recommended I immediately text back STOP to prevent them charging me more (confirming that the text would cost me just 12p). Without me texting STOP they said there was no way to stop them texting (and charging) me again.

Three did not know why I had received those texts and could not refund me. They did however put a block on my account to ensure no more charges could be taken. And they gave me the customer service phone number for the company the number was registered with – Oxygen8, the ‘Level 1 provider’.

The next day I called the number and was told they had no record of my mobile number, nor any charges. But when I pushed further they said they weren’t actually responsible for the texts, and connected me to the company they said was.

The call was put through to the second company who claimed they too were not responsible. They were simply an outsourced customer service call centre for yet another business (the ‘Level 2 provider’), and could not give any information about the texts.

Gothamiax have a long track record of ‘scam’ texts

They did however reveal that the company responsible for sending the texts was Gothamiax Ltd, and they gave me their customer service email address. A search for Gothamiax on Companies House, though, revealed this Ltd company doesn’t exist:

So I emailed the email address given, and received a reply almost immediately. Their reply claimed they had been trying to call me and asked for screen shots of the texts. There was no email signature with any company details, such as address or phone number.

Their email was clearly a generic reply – and a lie. I had received no phone calls nor had any missed calls.

They also omitted to address my request as to how they had my number and why they had charged my account without permission. To date they have failed to reply to any further emails.

A quick Google search of the company (Gothamiax) reveals I’m far from the only person to have received these apparent scam texts:

The search results also reveal that this company has been texting people and taking their money without permission for months. And there are far too many people complaining about this company, for too long, for it to be an honest mistake. If it was a genuine error they would have corrected it by now.

If you Google the phone number listed on Gothamiax’s website, you can read yet more complaints about this apparent scam:

How can a company ‘steal’ your money like this?

So how can a company just text you out of the blue and take money from you? It doesn’t seem possible – and yet it is.

Incredibly it appears that without doing anything at all, you can receive what the Phone-paid Service authority (PSA) describe as “fraudulent subscription service” texts that take money from your mobile phone account.

In theory it shouldn’t be allowed – you should need to actively and knowingly sign up to premium rate texts. That’s certainly what Which say: “SMS text messages of this kind can only be sent out if you sign up to the service.” The PSA confirm that you must consciously and clearly opt-in.

And yet companies like Gothamiax are blatantly signing consumers up without them opting in.

Which makes this claim on their website laughable:

As does the news that this company are already under investigation by the PSA due to the volume of complaints against them.

Level 1 providers like Oxygen8 can be fined and banned for ‘harming’ consumers

Ofcom also confirmed to us that there is nothing consumers can do to stop these fraudulent texts, and incredibly mobile operators like Three are under no obligation to protect consumers – nor to refund them.

When asked what responsibility Level 1 providers like Oxygen8, who sell the use of premium rate numbers to companies like Gothamiax have, the PSA said that they must ensure that the Level 2 providers abide by the appropriate codes – and ensure consumers aren’t harmed by unsolicited texts.

If Level 1 providers like Oxygen8 are seen to consistently enable other companies to bill consumers’ phone bills then the PSA can fine them and ban them from the market – as they did last year with Veeo.

Interestingly, a search for ‘Oxygen8 scam’ brought up a significant number of similar complaints involving the company:

What can you do to protect yourself from scam texts?

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself (and others) from scam texts. Firstly, contact your phone provider and ask them if they can put a premium rate bar on any extra charges being made to your account. It’s also important to check with them how much you’ll be charged to text STOP, and then do so.

Secondly, if you do receive spam text, report it to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and also report it to the Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA) – they are the UK regulator for content, goods and services charged to a phone bill.

It’s essential that you do take action to stop these texts and that you report them. From what I have read, these companies make money from people who did what my initial instinct was – to ignore an unsolicited text.

They’ll also continue to fly under the radar and ‘scam’ more people if they’re not reported to the appropriate authorities, and hopefully stopped.

If not, just think: even if companies sending out unsolicited texts only extracted £1:50 from each person before they realised and cancelled the scam (at a cost of 12p each), at the volume they appear to be texting people, they’d soon earn a significant amount of money from their unwilling victims.

Photo by Kuroko Ukou