A mobile phone user browses the Internet. Image Credit: File photo

Highlights

  • Some UAE users say they get subscribed to random telecom services, otherwise known as third-party subscriptons, without their consent
  • Third-party subscriptions can cost just a few dirhams a day but can add up to more than Dh100 a month or more than a thousand in a year
  • If users are not careful, they can spend a lot more than what they originally signed up for

Dubai: UAE consumers have been warned to be wary of extra telecom charges that could be added into their phone bills without their knowledge, and cost them a lot of money over the long term.

Some phone users have again taken to the Internet to complain that they get charged fees for services they never signed up for. These extra charges can cost as little as a few dirhams a day to more than Dh100 a month - or even more.

One user in UAE said he recently found a Dh10 weekly fee added to his bill. According to a notification sent to him, the charge is for a service called “Video Club Weekly” which he never actively subscribed to.

An SMS received by a phone user in UAE. Image Credit: Supplied

“It happened to me before. I got some charges mysteriously appearing in my bill and had no idea why. Good thing I managed to unsubscribe,” said another user.

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This isn’t the only time UAE residents have reported automatic telecom charges. Back in 2016, mobile phone subscribers also complained of confusing charges on their bill.

“My postpaid mobile connection keeps charging subscription every day, I lost almost Dh111 last month and around Dh100 this month,” said one customer who posted on du’s website in 2016. ”Fortunately, I check my bill and able to cancel it today.”

A user posted a complaint on du's website. Image Credit: Supplied

A spokesperson for Etisalat said that it’s no longer possible for mobile phone users in UAE to automatically get subscribed to extra services without their consent since the telecom provider has introduced the one-time password (OTP) facility.

“All third-party services are now activated through OTP after April 2017. A confirmation subscription message is always sent that always includes the cancellation method. For such services, customers are also given a free trial period,” the spokesperson told Gulf News.

This means that if customer later find out that they’re paying more than the data, SMS or calls they have logged in any given period, it is likely that they have subscribed to extra services on purpose, which could be a video, ringtone, foreign exchange rate alerts, or any other service. They have probably clicked on a subscribe button on an ad they’ve come across online and entered the OTP.

But why are some consumers unaware of these automatic subscriptions?

Security analysts said it is likely that phone users have opened malicious links and bogus websites. Downloading unsecured applications can also be the culprit.

“Assessing the suspicious SMS that subscribers have been receiving, it appears to be an attempt to trick them into clicking the link, indicating that this is a form of phishing. Attackers are constantly fine tuning such attacks which is why online users need to be constantly vigilant,” Nicolai Solling, chief technology officer at Help AG told Gulf News.

Christopher, who runs an IT company, said UAE consumers may have also downloaded applications that can’t be trusted, or any app that is enabled to automatically access a user’s SMS, as well as mobile number.

“If you authorize an app to read your SMS, and you happen to unknowingly click on a subscribe button online, the OTP sent to you via SMS can be entered automatically, use your mobile number and register you for a service you never wanted to subscribe to,” he said.

How can users protect themselves?

Stay vigilant. The responsibility, therefore, lies on every phone user to be extra careful when browsing the Internet, downloading applications and opening forwarded links.

Don't allow apps to access your SMS, if possible. “Never give SMS authorizations to any app that you don’t trust. Once an app is enabled to access your SMS, it can register you to stuff automatically,” said Christopher.

Don't open links that appear on your inbox at random. “As a practice, you should never click any links you receive unsolicited or from someone unexpectedly,” added Solling.

“Even suspicious communications from apparently legitimate sources such as banks and telecom providers should be verified by contacting the provider directly through their customer service helpline rather than via the channel mentioned in the suspicious message.”

Keep tabs of your bill and learn how to opt out. If you’re a du subscriber, you can opt out of the extra services through the telecom provider’s app, via an SMS or any other channel. You can also activate the “Do Not Disturb” service to steer clear of unwanted subscriptions or go directly to the provider’s customer service desk.

“Today, our customers have the freedom to check which services they have opted for and can unsubscribe using different channels, such as USSD, SMS, the du app and self-care to ensure they won’t receive any future promotional or subscription-based messages," du said in a statement sent to Gulf News.

“Additionally, du provides customers the opportunity to activate the ‘Do Not Disturb’ (DND) service, which can be activated by sending a blank text message to 5293. Beyond this, we constantly recommend our customers take action and raise queries with us directly if they are experiencing uncomfortable messaging from third-party providers.”