Vietnam's biggest telcos scam users by embedding services, concealing fees

TN News

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An illustration photo shows the SIM cards of VinaPhone, MobiFone and Viettel, three biggest operators in Vietnam. Photo by Truong Son

The country's three major mobile operators have been caught cheating customers by embedding services in SIM cards without asking customers if they want them and not indicating their prices, authorities said.

Do Huu Tri, deputy chief inspector at the Ministry of Information and Communications, said at a meeting in Hanoi Tuesday that these violations were discovered following a three and a half month investigation of VinaPhone, MobiFone, and the military-run Viettel ending August 30.

The three account for almost the entire market, and have been pocketing millions of dollars from the scam.

Tri said MobiFone's VMS Company earned the most from the scam by forcing customers to use SuperSIM and LiveInfo services.

He said they are chargeable but the charges are not spelled out, and there is nothing in the download process that lets customers know how much a specific download would cost or asks them if they wanted to proceed.

MobiFone cooperates with 17 such content service providers, earning VND150.57 billion (US$7.15 million) between June 2012 and July 2013.

The information and entertainment app IOD on VinaPhone SIM cards fetched the company more than VND20.6 billion ($978,500) in the same period.

VinaPhone tied up with group company VASC Software and Communication Company to operate the website that allows users to view, listen to, and download information and other Internet services at a price which is not listed either.

It earned more than VND8.9 billion ($422,750) between July 2012 and last May.

Viettel was found committing similar violations with its Viettel Plus services but the amount it earned is not known.

The investigators also found the three companies charging customers even if the text messages the latter sent were invalid for instance, messages typed in the incorrect format or failed to reach them.

MobiFone has been asked to refund more than VND816 million it charged in such cases and VinaPhone, more than VND692.7 million.

But some of the victims cannot be tracked down since their numbers are no longer in use.

Poor management of prepaid subscriptions remains a big problem, the investigation found, with the ministry fining the three companies nearly VND2 billion ($95,000) and deactivating nearly 35,000 prepaid SIM accounts whose users' information was false or inadequate.

Many subscriptions were accepted without proper ID card as required by law. Many cards were blurred or faked, showing the holder's age to be more than 100 or having nonsensical names like "A B C" and "aas fsadfas" or swear words for names or celebrities' photos.

The ministry said there are more than 120 million mobile phone subscriptions and nearly 114 million of them are prepaid, and the poor oversight of telecom companies has allowed prepaid subscriptions to become a tool for crimes such as stealing people's money and for spamming.

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