Wednesday, 11 November 2015 23:04

ACMA warns of direct carrier billing spending trap


When you make purchases using what’s called Direct Carrier billing (DCB) you can make your transaction on a mobile device or network-connected tablet, without the need to provide your bank details.

Sounds simple, pain free and presumably secure, and for many consumers that’s probably the way it is when they use DCB – also known as premium direct billing, direct operator billing or direct account billing.

With a DCB transaction, your mobile provider will disclose some of your personal information, including your mobile phone number, to the third-party provider selling the content, to enable that third party to provide you with the content.  Then, your mobile provider pays the third party provider, and then charges you for the content purchase.

But, the telecommunications industry watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority {ACMA), has warned that by purchasing goods and services, including content, using DCB you need to be wary of inadvertently being led into a spending trap.

DCB and these types of purchases are most often used to buy content like games downloads, other apps or other forms of entertainment, with the purchases charged directly to your account and displayed under ‘content charges’ or ‘third party purchases’.

As the ACMA points out, there are two types of content purchases - those that involve a one-off content charge (non-subscription), such as to download a game, or those that charge on an ongoing basis (subscription), such as to receive daily horoscopes.

And, this is where you may inadvertently fall into the over-spending trap.

Depending on which type of purchase you make – subscription or one off /non-subscription – the ACMA says you may not realise or know which type or purchase you are getting yourself into – a one-off charge or ongoing subscription charges.

Warns the ACMA: “Some telecommunications providers automatically enable DCB for new mobile customers. So while it can be convenient for some consumers to use DCB, you may also need to be careful not to overspend on your monthly limits or not to accidentally make any purchases.

“This could be as easy as a child inadvertently making an in-app game purchase while they are playing a game. All that could be required is 1-2 clicks from a banner advertisement that has appeared on the screen.”

Bingo, you, or your child, may have committed to spending far more than you realise!

The ACMA says that when you go to download a game or make a music purchase using DCB, you will be presented with the purchase terms and conditions - and it’s at this point you can, hopefully, avoid falling into the potential spending trap.

As the ACMA recommends, you should read carefully the terms and conditions, as this may be in very small writing, and will explain important information such as if you are signing up to a subscription or one-off purchase.

“You will then be asked to agree to the content purchase by selecting a ‘buy now’, ‘purchase now’ or ‘subscribe now’ prompt - once selected, you should receive a text message confirming the purchase. This message should provide a description of the service, pricing, how to stop the service and a contact phone number,” explains the ACMA.

The ACMA further says that if you want to use DCB, but you are worried about overspending, you can always request your mobile provider to apply a limit to your monthly spending.  

As the authority explains, the availability and arrangements relating to DCB services vary between mobile providers. For example, currently, Telstra allows both its pre-paid and post-paid customers to use DCB (with preset limits for each customer type), whereas Optus only allows its post-paid customers access to use DCB for content on Google Play, again with its own preset limits.

So, if you don’t want to use DCB, you can ask your mobile provider to disable it, or for access to be barred to DCB on your mobile.

Finally, the ACMA gives these tips on how to manage your purchases:

•    If you are worried about over-spending, ask your mobile provider to put a limit on your monthly spending

•    Regularly monitor charges by carefully reviewing your bill (pre-paid customers can log in to view their account via their mobile providers portal)

•    Familiarise yourself with the purchasing terms and conditions. This will help you understand pricing and whether a purchase is set as an ongoing subscription or a one-off content purchase.

And, if all else fails, where do you go for help if you have concerns about using, or potentially using, DCB to purchase content?

In the first instance, the ACMA suggests you contact the third party provider named on your mobile bill to see if you can find a resolution - and if you have trouble contacting the third party provider, you should contact your mobile provider, and if your issue is still not resolved, contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman on 1800 062 058 or go to the TIO’s website.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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