Vodacom facing class action lawsuit over “disappearing airtime”
Vodacom is facing a class action lawsuit for tens of millions for “unauthorised fees” the company charged subscribers. The unauthorised charges, which are often experienced as disappearing airtime by users, come from wireless application service providers (WASPs). Vodacom supplies the WASPs with the ability to bill subscribers’ accounts for services, which often happens without the consent of the subscriber, stated the complainants.
It is up to subscribers to check their cellphone account to see if they are the victim of rogue WASPs. The problem of unauthorised billing by WASPs has existed for many years, with thousands of Vodacom subscribers falling victim to unauthorised billing. While Vodacom has put measures in place to prevent fraudulent billing by WASPs, companies find ways to bypass these measures.
Many people have called on Vodacom to make WASP billing an opt-in option, but to date these calls have fallen on deaf ears.
Bidvest executive taking action
When Bidvest Car Rental executive William Douglas saw his Vodacom account was billed without his consent for “content services”, he decided to take action. Noseweek reported that Douglas laid charges against Vodacom with the police, and is launching a class action lawsuit against the mobile operator. He feels that the way cellphone companies operate in this regard is “offensive and downright criminal”.
MyBroadband contacted Douglas for comment on his action against Vodacom, but he could not immediately provide details, as he was busy with an expose for Carte Blanche.
Vodacom confirmed that two WASP content aggregators – both of which charged Douglas – were in contravention of WASPA’s code of conduct. “The WASPs have since been suspended while a further investigation is conducted,” said Vodacom. Vodacom said Douglas has been fully refunded for the fraudulent activity on his account.
“Pending the outcomes of the second investigation, Vodacom is committed to taking appropriate action that could include terminating services of WASPs and their affiliate content aggregators,” it said. Vodacom did not state why it is unable to stop unlawful billing by WASPs, or why it does not make WASP services opt-in rather than opt-out. It did state it has zero tolerance for any illegal activity on its network and continuously adds security features to enhance its double-opt-in solution.
“The next upgrade will come into effect in December. Additionally, we are actively implementing anti-fraud detection software.” It is also developing a capability in the My Vodacom App that gives customers a view of content services subscribed to – with the option to delete unwanted content.
Customers can unsubscribe from WASP services by sending an SMS stating “STOP ALL” to 31050, said Vodacom.