Unexpected charges in telephone subscription invoices – operators also responsible

Many Finnish consumers found unexpected mobile payment transactions in their telephone subscription invoices in summer and early autumn. Telia had included charges for the Ninjasplay game service in its subscription invoices, which prompted consumers to contact the consumer authorities.

Consumers stated that they had not made a contract to subscribe to the service or provided Ninjasplay with any personal, invoicing or payment card details. Wireless Works B.V., a company operating in the Netherlands, was given as the payee in the invoices.

The Finnish Consumer Ombudsman requested information from Wireless Works. Based on the information received and the conclusions made by the Consumer Ombudsman, there were numerous inadequacies in the game service subscription process in the light of Finland’s consumer protection legislation. The consumers were not provided with the required advance information in a clear manner and immediately before subscribing to the service. There was no notification of the beginning of a chargeable subscription and the company did not use the required mobile payment icon. The order confirmation did not contain all the required information and it had not been received by all customers.

The Ninjasplay service was withdrawn from the Finnish market soon after the Consumer Ombudsman had looked into the matter and there was no need for further investigations. However, the Consumer Ombudsman drew the company’s attention to the inadequacies and to the Finnish legislation on mobile content services in case the company plans to operate in Finland in the future.

Operators are also responsible for mobile payments

Obscure mobile payments and contracts that a consumer has not approved are not binding on the consumer. If the charges for a product or a service are stated on the subscription invoice, the consumer also has the right to submit a complaint to the operator sending the invoice. The operator, as well as the seller and the service provider, is responsible for ensuring the lawfulness of the charge. The credit card company is similarly responsible, if the subscription has been paid with a credit card.

In a policy decision (in Finnish) made in 2016, the Finnish Consumer Ombudsman already drew the attention of Elisa, Telia and DNA to the statutory joint responsibility of telecommunications operators in situations where consumers pay for products or services using mobile phones and the charges for them are stated in the subscription invoice. Operators may not give false or misleading information about their own obligations or consumers’ rights when they are contacted by consumers enquiring about lack of clarity in their mobile payment invoices.

In 2019, the Consumer Ombudsman investigated the processes used by Elisa and Telia in the invoicing of mobile payments. In these cases, the Consumer Ombudsman has urged the companies to ensure that their invoicing processes are in accordance with the law and the rules of the Finnish Ethical Committee for Premium Rate Services (MAPEL).

You should regularly check your telephone and credit card invoicing. They may sometimes contain charges that you are not aware of.

The mobile payment function is simple and thus easy to misuse. For this reason, operators should remember their duty to act as gatekeepers and ensure that the function can be safely used by consumers. A responsible approach by telecommunications companies also enhances consumers’ trust in mobile payments, which helps to make the method more popular.