No text message is free. Either you pay $0.10 or $0.15 every time you send or receive one, or you pay a monthly fee to your cell phone provider for unlimited text messages. Therefore, anyone who advertises “free” text messages is lying—there are hidden costs.
You’ve probably noticed the increasing number of commercials on television for text message services. They’ll send you your daily horoscope or a joke or perhaps a dating tip. And perhaps the service only costs $0.05 for every message. The problem is that you probably haven’t read the fine print at the bottom of the screen, which is merely a flash of muddy type unless you have DVR and pause the channel.
What are the hidden costs of these “free” text messages? For one thing, when you subscribe to these jokes or dating tips, you are automatically subscribed to a host of other text message services, most of which are purely commercial advertisement. If you don’t have unlimited text messages on your phone, you’ll be charged for each incoming message.
Even worse? These text messages can be very difficult to stop, particularly since your subscription often authorizes the company to obtain your billing information from your cell phone provider. These hidden costs might show up on your next bill or it might be invoiced to you next month.
The hidden costs of “free” text messages aren’t limited to opt-in offers from the television, either. Have you ever purchased something online and seen the already-checked boxes at the bottom of the screen? They have automatically opted you in to receive “marketing offers” from their “affiliates”, and you’ll be subscribed unless you manually un-check them. Recently, companies that do business online have included check boxes for text message marketing, as well, so make sure you read the fine print before clicking the “Buy” button on the Internet.
You might also encounter the hidden costs of “free” text messages when you decide to download one of those catchy polyphonic ring tones from the Internet. In most cases, the cost of a ring tone is less than $2.00, but be sure to read the fine print. All you have to do is send a simple text message to the provider, but you might be signing up for much more.
Many ring tone providers charge you not only for your ring tone purchase, but also for a subsequent monthly subscription to the service. For example, the Verizon Wireless download service is called V-Cast, and it costs fifteen dollars a month. Now that’s a pricey text message.
Another “free” text message that might contain hidden costs is the one that you send to your favorite reality TV show to help bump someone out of the house. These text messages only cost about $0.15 up front, but it automatically subscribes you to a news alert service. The cost of this added bonus? For Big Brother, you’ll pay $3.99 each month until you figure out how to cancel.
So what can you do about the hidden costs of “free” text messages? Consumer-Action.org suggests not using your text message service at all except for messages to family and friends. We’ve become accustomed to the Dotcom boom and we often don’t stop to read what we’re “clicking”. If you’ve gotten in the habit of agreeing to whatever appears on your computer or cell phone screen, it’s time to stop and think about what you’re doing.
It is also a good idea to call the company from which you are receiving the text messages. Let them know that you aren’t interested in subscribing to whatever service you get, and insist that they stop billing your credit card. If that doesn’t work, call your credit card company or cell phone provider and explain the situation. The most important thing is not to delay because most of these companies will not issue refunds on things you’ve already purchased.