If consumer complaints about unconfirmed activation of mobile value added services in India, it would appear that things are back to their fraudulent worst. Data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India indicates that complaints about activation without user consent have increased to a level much beyond what they were before TRAI instituted a double confirmation regime for activation. We did the math:
1. Average number of complaints has gone up
Average complaints about MVAS activation between June and September 2014 were 31% higher than between April and July 2013, which is just before the TRAI regulations preventing false activation were instituted. For January to April 2014, the number of complaints were even higher, up 41% from April to July 2013.
IMPORTANT: if services or packs have been activated without consent for you, you can request deactivation by dialling a common toll free number, 155223.
2. Actual complaints have gone up
The averages were calculated on the basis of historical TRAI data (here), and it’s evident that the number of complaints being filed against activation without consent have gone up since before the TRAI regulations, peaking at 131,816 complaints in August 2014. For the data that we have, the highest number of complaints were in June last year, at 104,996. It’s worth noting that for each month, between February and August 2014, the number of complaints were higher than this.
3. 1 million complaints over the last 9 months: To be specific, 1,044,776 complaints.
4. Increase in complaints coincide with increase in activations
If you compare the chart above with the chart below, you’ll see a direct correlation between activation and complaints: The more the activations, the more the complaints. However, there’s something else. While, compared to last year, the number of activations each month are more or less the same (mostly lower), the number of complaints are higher than earlier.
Note that July 2013 might appear to be an anomaly, but that is because it’s possible that there’s a lag of a month between activation and complaints. Lower activations in June would lead to lower complaints in July.
What this indicates
Firstly, like in case of SMS Spam, TRAI regulations for false activation have failed. The telecom industry had promised the regulator that it would address these issues, but they don’t appear to have had an impact. Of course, one could argue that it’s just that more people are reporting fraud now, as compared to last year, or that complaints aren’t an indication of actual issues.
In that case, the numbers suggest that consumer issues in telecom are yet to be addressed. Frankly, there’s a need for a consumer regulator to look into telecom complaints: something on the lines of the FTC in the US.
How Activations are supposed to work
1. Two levels of confirmation: “The first offer of a service is on the service providers’ platform and a second confirmation from the customer is through a dedicated consent gateway which is owned by a third party and not by the service provider.”
2. Deactivation: via a common toll-free de-activation number (155223), and the TRAI has said that all requests for de-activation have to be completed in 4 hours.
3. Auto Renewals: information about auto renewals have to be provided to customers through SMS and Outbound Dialers, 24 hours before its renewal.
4. Wrongful Activation: The amount shall be refunded within 24 hours of the customer’s request. Customer requests need to be made within 24 hours for value added services with validity of more than one day and within 6 hours for value added services with validity of one day.