Consumer Ombudsman: Operators carry a clear responsibility for purchases invoiced via subscription bills

The Consumer Ombudsman has made a policy decision stating that in the case of unclear mobile payments invoiced on a subscription bill consumers may file a complaint, not only with the service provider, but also with the telecommunications operator.  The statutory duties of operators include the processing of complaints concerning purchases paid for by mobile payment and they may not assign this duty to a service provider or vendor.

Towards the end of 2015, the Consumer Ombudsman and consumer rights advisors received several reports concerning orders placed using mobile payment.* The consumers in question did not know how, and for which purchases, the mobile payment charges on their bills had been incurred. The Consumer Ombudsman requested a report on the matter from DNA, Elisa and Sonera, and made a policy decision regarding operator responsibility.

Pursuant to section 128 of the Information Society Code, operators are required to investigate unclear orders and purchases invoiced on subscription bills in the same way that creditors are required to investigate unclear credit card charges. Also, consumers have the right to refrain from paying unclear charges invoiced regarding an order paid for by mobile payment, and to present the same claims to the operator as to the service provider or vendor. Consumers may choose whether to submit a complaint to the operator or to the service provider. An operator’s customer service must not give consumers misleading or untruthful information regarding the distribution of responsibility between parties. In the policy decision, the Consumer Ombudsman further specified the operators’ responsibility to provide information on mobile payment and its risks to their customers.

The policy decision is described in more detail in the Consumer Ombudsman’s Newsletter 3/2016 published today (in Finnish, English translation will be published later), which is a themed issue on communications services and digitalisation. The newsletter describes decisions made by the Consumer Ombudsman regarding operators, special offers for subscriptions, compensation for disruptions in TV entertainment services and the provision of a customer service helpline at a basic cost. In the leader of the newsletter, Consumer Ombudsman Päivi Hentunen discusses the challenges that digitalisation poses for supervision. The newsletter also has an article on the new proposals of the European Commission concerning e-commerce and the availability of digital commodities and another article on the significance of consumer protection in the digital internal market of the EU. There is also a column on smart homes.

* ‘Mobile payment’ is defined as a transaction where a consumer using a mobile data connection on a smart phone, tablet or laptop selects the mobile payment option on a service providers website. The operator identifies the IP address of the consumers connection and the subscription SIM card and then invoices the payment via the consumer’s subscription bill.