mobile phone rip-offs guide

Mobile Phones: How to Avoid Rip-Offs and Unwanted Subscriptions

October 16, 2023 - Ralf Beyeler

Premium-SMS, 0900 numbers, ringtone subscriptions, and hidden links: it is still common for mobile phone users to get lured into paying for completely useless services. This guide explains how to protect yourself, and which steps to take when you fall victim to mobile rip-offs.

There are a number of services available to telecom users in Switzerland which generate additional charges on top of mobile plan fees. Many of these so-called value-added services actually offer little or no value to the customer. Instead, the service providers behind these simply aim to lure customers into paying for these rip-offs by using cleverly-constructed tricks. The following legitimate telecom services are commonly misused for this purpose:

  • Premium SMS: When you send a premium SMS, you are charged a fee which goes to the entity which has the phone number, in addition to possible standard SMS fees. You can order this kind of transaction by sending a predefined code (START, for example) to an abbreviated phone number. There are also premium SMS subscriptions: Once you have subscribed, you receive paid messages on a regular basis.
  • Value-added numbers: Phone numbers which begin with 0900, 0901, or 0906 are value-added numbers. Calling these numbers can be very expensive. Normally, these numbers are used to provide a paid, phone-based service. Common examples of services offered include medical consultation, booking appointments to obtain visas, various consulting services, and adult entertainment services (telephone sex or sex chats).
  • Ringtone subscriptions: When you subscribe to this service, you receive new ringtones for your phone on a recurring basis (once a week, for example).

Mobile apps are also a frequent haunting ground for rip-offs. In some cases, when you download an app, you are subscribed to a linked paid subscription. Sometimes, you as the mobile phone user do not even notice any of this. In-app purchases can also be a problem, when paid services are offered within the app while you are using it.

When does a contract or subscription become legally binding?

In principle, Swiss law (Code of Obligations OR article 1) requires a clear expression of desire to partake in a contract in order for the agreement to become legally binding. The terms and condition of the contract should be clearly communicated, and the customer should be made aware that they are agreeing to pay for a service.

Service providers that offer services via value-added phone numbers (numbers which begin with 0900 or 0906, for example) or premium SMS messaging are legally required to publish their fees and charges alongside the phone number.

A subscription is only legally binding if information about what the subscription includes and which costs apply is provided in a clear manner. Subscriptions which are available via premium SMS services are subject to additional Swiss legal requirements. The following information must be provided to the consumer:

  • The basic subscription fee
  • The fee per individual SMS
  • The procedure for unsubscribing
  • The maximum number of SMS messages per minute

After receiving the SMS message with this information, customers have to have to expressly accept the offer on their phone.

How can I protect myself from rip-off subscriptions?

You can avoid the risk of paying for services based on value-added phone numbers altogether by instructing your telecom service provider to block access to these numbers. Every mobile service provider is legally required to offer this option. You can choose whether you want to block all value-added numbers, or only those from providers of adult entertainment services (numbers beginning with 0906 for phones, and 6 for SMSs). Blocking and unblocking these numbers can be done online or by contacting customer services.

By blocking value-added services, you completely avoid the risk of being charged for calling 0900 numbers or sending premium SMS messages. This kind of block also prevents carrier billing like Swisscom Pay and Sunrise Pay, where purchases are charged directly to your phone bill.

Blocking value-added numbers is a good financial move for the vast majority of consumers. If you find that blocking value-added numbers leads to problems, such as being unable to use a needed service, you can unblock them again at any time.

You can protect yourself from unwanted subscriptions in the Apple App Store (iPhone) and the Google Play Store (Android) by not saving your credit card information or bank account details in your profile. This can be inconvenient, because you will have to either enter your card information every time you make a purchase and then delete it, or you will have to load prepaid credits for the app store into your customer account. You can buy gift cards with prepaid credits at stores like supermarkets and kiosks. It is also worth noting that you cannot use Apple Pay or Google Pay without saving credit card or bank account information in your profile.

How can I recognize rip-offs?

In some cases, new subscriptions are listed in the Apple Store or Play Store. Reviewing app store activity on a regular basis is beneficial, as it enables you to find and cancel unwanted subscriptions which you may not even know about.

You should also take a quick look at your phone bills each month. If you have a mobile plan with a flat monthly fee, then finding irregularities is relatively easy, because your basic phone bill is identical every month. If you are ever billed more than your plan’s flat fee, you immediately know that you should take a closer look to determine the source of the extra charges.

Never pass on an unsolicited code which you received by SMS. If you receive a code by SMS and are asked to pass this on, then it is likely an attempt at fraud. Of course, that does not apply when you request the code yourself – as part of a log in procedure, for example.

What can I do if I fall victim to a rip-off?

In many cases, the contract will not be legally binding, because you did not deliberately consent to the agreement, or you were duped into accepting it.

If the money has been charged to your phone bill, you should immediately dispute the charge by phone. You should also send a registered letter to your mobile service provider detailing the value-added service charge and requesting its removal from your phone bill. Only pay the rest of the phone bill, but not the disputed charge.

If the money has not yet been charged to your phone bill, then the procedure is the same as for other financial demands. Most likely, the merchant will use letters from debt-collection companies to push you into paying their bill. But if the demand is not justified, it is sufficient to inform the merchant about this after receiving the bill. If the merchant insists on payment, they will have to be able to prove to the judge that you willingly signed up to the subscription. Even if they are able to provide evidence – which often is not the case – the legal process costs the merchant time and effort. For these reasons, merchants may well write off the debt rather than pressing charges.

What happens when I dispute my phone bill?

After you have disputed your phone bill, your mobile service provider forwards your address to the value-added service provider.

The merchant which offers the value-added service has the option of pursuing the debt. You can open an arbitration case with Swiss telecom arbitration authority Ombudscom. If the merchant sticks to their demand and you continue to dispute it, then a judge will have to rule on whether the demand is justified and whether or not you have to pay.


What should I do when I receive an SMS from an abbreviated phone number?

You may receive completely unsolicited premium SMSs from abbreviated phone numbers. If it is obvious that the message is a premium SMS which is prompting you to use a paid service, the best thing you can do is to reply to the abbreviated number from which you received the text message with an SMS containing the text STOPP ALL.

Advertising SMSs and SMSs which you receive as part of a secure log in process are generally free of charge.

Can children and young adults use value-added services?

Telecom services are required to block access to value-added adult entertainment services by default for phone numbers belonging to minors. Telecom service providers block these numbers based on the child’s age as given by the parent who subscribes to the plan or prepaid offer for their underage child.

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Expert Ralf Beyeler
Ralf Beyeler is the telecom expert at and also covers other areas of personal finance.
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