TELECOM firms have been accused of cheating their clients through bogus telephone transactions where clients lose huge sums of money in double charges and unsolicited messages.
According to documents seen by New Vision, a client made a telephone call using a Uganda Telecom (UTL) line last November and ended up being charged twice for the same call.
The documents show that when the call was ongoing, another call was initiated using the same numbers, resulting into double charging.
“I don’t know how this came about. It looks like they have been cheating me for long because previously, I would just pay the bill without checking it,” said the subscriber who preferred anonymity.
Ali Amir, the UTL managing director, denied the accusations.
“Universally, customers complain about being overcharged when they are on prepaid services because they lose track of consumption of services at time of usage. This is a common issue across all networks in the world, not just in Uganda,” he said.
On unsolicited messages, Amir said UTL has a database of customers who have agreed to re¬ceive and those who have opted out of receiving messages about product offerings.
Subscribers have also accused Airtel and MTN of continuously cheating them through making unauthorised deductions off their airtime.
The clients say the companies make deductions for dropped calls, when messages are not delivered and through imposing packages like ringtones purporting that clients subscribed for them.
“It gets crazy during the time of releasing examination results. The companies become blatant thieves because even if you send a message for results and you get no reply, your money is deducted. Even if you complain, nothing is done,” said Herbert Muwanika, a law graduate.
The subscribers also said companies deduct their money when they call toll free lines, and sometimes when the calls fail to go through.
Sheilah Nabukeera, an MTN customer, said she was charged for calling the telecom company’s toll free line on December 15, 2012.
Vincent Mwijukye said Warid Telecom deducted sh500 off his airtime on December 9, 2012, saying it was for renewal of ‘mabeat’ package, which he never subscribed to.
Kala Ramesh, an Indian businessman in Kampala, who has UTL and Warid lines, said when he sometimes makes a call and it does not go through, he finds his money deducted.
He also once received a message on his Warid line saying: “Dear customer, you were charged Ush160 for receiving special message from 6771001.”
Ramesh said when he complained to Warid, instead of replacing the airtime; they called him to their office, which he said was costly in terms of transport and time.
Hillary Nsambu, a client of MTN, said he received a message telling him he had subscribed to a programmes that charges sh150 per SMS, although he had never subscribed to any programme.
Yakubu Makawa, a businessman based in Mbale, who has both Warid and MTN lines, said he has on several occasions been cheated by the telecom companies.
When clients contact customer care centers requesting for the blacklisting of unsolicited messages, the attendants often claim not to have control over the companies that send the messages.
The unsolicited messages are sent even when the subscriber has no airtime. If a telephone user that receives the messages happens to load airtime, they hardly make any call because their airtime is deducted immediately.
The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the body mandated to regulate the operations of telecom companies, maintained that any deductions for services not approved by subscribers are illegal.
UCC director for competition and consumer affairs Fred Otunnu said the commission had not received any complaint regarding double charging, but added: “If it is being done, it is unlawful.”
On deduction of clients’ airtime arising from unsolicited messages and other programmes, Otunnu said UCC had received several complaints.
”Subscribers usually come to us when they complain to the service provider and they are not helped. In the cases we have handled, we have contacted the telecom companies, and where it has been proved beyond reasonable double that a client’s airtime has been illegally deducted, we have asked them (telecom firms) to refund it,” he said.
Otunnu explained that unsolicited messages are supposed to be free of charge.
”Content providers (SMS com¬panies) that use telecommunication companies’ platforms to send messages have service agreements.
The conditions for which we assign numbers to content providers are that unsolicited messages should be free and they should provide an option where a client can unsubscribe a given service if they do not want it,” he said.
Justin Ntabgoba, the MTN Uganda corporate affairs manager, admitted that there were wrongful deductions, but said they were unintended.
“These are systems and something can go wrong. We have over seven million customers, so, until one flags off a complaint, we may not know. But if a customer raises a complaint about a wrongful deduction, we refund their airtime,” she explained.
A comment from Warid was not forthcoming.