Getting The Last Guy's Expensive SMS Services
By Mike Masnick, Tue Jul 06 21:00:00 GMT 2004

As mobile operators rush to get old phone numbers back in service, customers who receive recycled numbers are discovering that they're also receiving expensive premium rate services, and they don't know how to make them stop.

It's not news that mobile phone carriers recycle phone numbers. What else are they supposed to do with a phone number after it's no longer in service? It's the same thing telcos have always done with landline numbers. In the past, about the only problem associated with the recycling of phone numbers was that you might get phone calls for the previous owner of that number -- which could be annoying if it belonged to someone or some company who received a lot of phone calls. Sometimes, the stories can be amusing, such as the case where one woman ended up with comedian Chris Rock's old mobile phone number.

However, now that mobile phones are being used for much more than just talking, these too-quickly-recycled phone numbers are causing expensive problems for some new customers. They're discovering that the previous owner of that number has signed up for expensive premium-rate SMS offerings that continue to the new customer. Most of the time, these services are unwanted by the new customer, but they often don't know who to contact to get them to stop. The first call is often to the carrier -- who can only tell them to contact the provider of the service. According to the article, call centers are now being swamped with complaints from customers who aren't pleased to find out their carrier can't help them.

As mobile phones become much more than talking (and even texting) devices, these unintended consequences are going to become bigger issues that the carriers need to deal with. Since a phone number is now becoming a simple form of identification for some, switching those numbers is more than just a little issue. If the mobile operators don't think through this issue more carefully, they may discover that their support costs are getting higher and higher as they introduce these new services. The same problem is going to apply to mobile advertising as well. With so many companies looking on mobile advertising as mobile spam -- imagine how upset new customers will be when they discover their brand new phone number is already inundated with mobile spam from the previous owner? While the carriers want to deny any responsibility, customers are going to look towards the carrier to solve this problem, and ignoring that expectation is simply going to cost more money in support calls.