How to avoid unexpected charges on your phone bill

11 February 2020, Joanne Prowse, CEO

The Phone-paid Services Authority has been dealing with more complaints about subscription services than any other issue, including from people who have been charged for subscriptions that they say they didn’t want or even remember signing up for. To mark Safer Internet Day Joanne Prowse shares her top tips for keeping any unwanted charges at bay.

“I have no idea how they got my number” and “I have not subscribed to any service” are just two of the many complaints we received about a subscription service called ‘Crowd Offers’.

This service charged people for access to a website of giveaways and discount codes for big brands including Nike, Pizza Hut and Doritos. But people complained to us that they didn’t sign up for the service, that they didn’t know what the service was, and that when they tried to contact the provider their calls weren’t answered and their emails bounced back.

Charging for subscription services to your phone bill can be a quick, easy and convenient way to pay for content that you want to receive, for example your access to Spotify, your favourite mobile phone game or lifestyle app. But if you don’t consent to these charges, seeing them pop up on your phone bill can be an extremely frustrating and upsetting experience.

We have strict rules in place regulating subscription services, which we strengthened in November 2019. Now, consumers must go through a two-stage sign-up process, using either a PIN, password or SMS. A receipt must be issued after every charge and companies must make clear to consumers that they’re signing up to a phone-paid subscription.

And we will take enforcement action against companies that break our rules. In the Crowd Offers case – which pre-dates the new, tighter rules coming into effect – the company that ran this service has now been fined £170,000, banned from the market for two years and ordered to refund the consumers affected by its rule flouting.

We will continue to bring enforcement action against these types of companies and to look to ensure our regulation protects consumers. But, alongside the new regulations, there are some things you can do to protect yourself against any unwanted charges.

The first is to remember that when you’re browsing the internet, you can charge services and content to your phone bill. Watch what you click on – be that ads, pop-ups or links – and make sure you know what you’re agreeing to before you sign up for a subscription. Our rules make absolutely clear that services need to be explicit about the price they’re charging, the frequency of the charge and other key terms and conditions so look out for this information before you continue with the sign-up process.

It’s also important to check your phone bill regularly. If you see anything unexpected, check it with your mobile network (for example, Vodafone) and also the service provider (the company that’s charged you, for example, the music streaming service).

And if you receive messages telling you you’re being charged for a subscription service, don’t ignore these or assume that they’re spam – they can contain important information. By replying STOP ALL to the shortcode provided (five or six-digit number) you can stop any unwanted subscriptions.

If you have any concerns, you can always report an issue to us at www.psauthority.org.uk – we use this information to ensure the services that are provided are working properly and according to our rules.