Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Opt out you bastard, I said OPT OUT!

Premium SMS messaging services, credit cards, phone services, cable TV, gherkin in your McDonald's - you name the service, they will only remove it if you ask them too, even if you didnt ask for it in the first place. In this day and age, the dirty tactics marketing type or the sneaky bastard behind opt-out services, seems to be the calibre of person being hired by companies small and large to run their service administration. They will drum up cash by pushing their services onto unsuspecting people on mailing\phone lists or dimwitted individuals silly enough to sign up to services without reading the fine print.

How does it work? Simple - lets take scenario A. Jane is an average chick. She likes walks on the beach, romantic dinners and strangling ferrets. She purchases something online from a reputable online sales company called Nice Guys Inc. Working for Nice Guys Inc. is Jim Bastard. Jim trawls through the Nice Guys Inc. database collecting personal information of its customers and sells it on the side to a rep from Up Yours Inc. called Sneaky Bugger. Mr S. Bugger then uses the cell phone info to sign Jane up to a costly but innocuous Mobile Phone Quiz service that texts you questions and offers prizes for correct answers (prizes that don't exist, but that's another scam). Jane receives text messages, not understanding who they are from, and deletes them thinking she's being spammed. Jane receives her next cell phone bill, sees she is in the hock to the tune of $hitloads and promptly has a coronary. You see, what Jane didn't realise is that every time she received a text she was being billed for it. To cancel this, she would have to opt out, even though she never opted in personally in the first place.

Sound far fetched? Sound like I've run out of spam fodder for my blog and am making this shit up? Unfortunately no - this happens all the time and is on the rise around the world. Sneaky bastards are using our personal information and in some cases our gullibility against us yet again, and this include some major companies. In New Zealand we have Telecom, our largest telco provider, doing this very thing just recently with some of its services on mobile phones. Credit Card companies, for a long time, raise your credit limit without asking, and refuse to let you cancel your cards. American Express is a great example of this. A personal friend of mine has tried on multiple occasions to cancel his Amex and he gets transferred, put off, hung up on and abused to prevent him doing so. And they charge him a yearly service fee for having the card! WTF is up with that! An opt-out service you can't opt-out of!

And of course, there are always things advertised late at night on the telly for "sign-your-life-away-services" where you can have all manner of date\quiz\joke spam pour into your cell handset 24-7 if you are so inclined. These services, which cost the aforementioned $hitload, are aimed at the dimwitted and lonely individual who may just want to have someone text him\her once in a while. And while I feel sorry for them, they do write their own credit obituary by signing up.

"But" I hear you cry, "surely if this kind of thing was policed it wouldn't happen?". "Wouldn't the fuzz be cracking skulls if there was a law against it?" Sadly, no - there already IS laws against it, but unless you can prove who did it (in Janes case) or prove the company sent you the texts without your consent, theres not a lot anyone can do. The ombudsman in NZ already hears plenty of these cases every year and the number of cases is on the rise.

So what can we do? Well its like the other spam rants I've been on recently.

Awareness - be aware of scams doing the rounds, but dont believe everything you read. Check up on it if you are unsure if its spam alert about a scam or it came with an advert about Viagra. Check Snopes.com - they have a good encyclopaedia of spam emails and hoaxes. But also Googling will find most things

Protection - turn on junk filters, don't give out information to people you don't trust and don't do phone surveys - they are often people trawling for personal information so they can rip you off. If you recieve a text you don't understand, check with the phone company to make sure you are not getting billed for it.

Think-before-you-click - links in emails, pop-ups on websites, things asking you to "sign up". Don't do it unless its absolutely necessary, and don't give them any information you don't think is useful to complete whatever transaction you are trying to complete. Why do they want your phone number/address/bank account? If it wont let you through, lie - change a couple of numbers and if its ever a problem, say you mistyped.

Be careful out there!


Jim said...

Please stop telling people I work for Nice Guys Inc. If you don't stop I'm going to eat your children.

-Jim Bastard

Spankermatic said...

Oh so you deny that brief tenure at Nice Guys Inc? I have your employment record, your misdemeanour's list and the security footage of you being escorted from the building.

Come on - man up.