Mobile Phones

12 Nov 2008 questionsarchive

A question put forward to the Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Energy) regarding mobile phone scams.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:38): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Consumer Affairs a question about mobile phone scams.

Leave granted.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Honourable members may be aware that there was a recent promotion in the Sunday Mail for people to enter a lottery-type competition using their mobile phones. My questions to the minister are:

1. Has she issued some sort of warning to the public; if so, when?

2. Does the minister have any advice regarding whether this is, in fact, against the law; if so, what advice does she have in relation to pursuing the proponents of this particular 'competition'?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Energy) (14:39): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. I have to say that it never ceases to amaze me that each day we wake up to a new and innovative approach by people to relieve others of their money. This scratchie competition that was inserted in the Sunday Mail at the weekend is one such promotion. It offered a multitude of prizes, purportedly totalling around $20 million. After scratching the panel and matching up three symbols—and on most application forms I saw the three panels matched up, so it would appear that many people were winners—the participant could claim their prize by sending an SMS message to the promoter.

At the same time, the winner was also subscribing to an SMS premium service at the cost of $10 every five days. What is more, my understanding is that it continued to roll over, so it was perpetual until the person indicated to the promoter that they wished to stop being a participant in the contest. To unsubscribe, participants must send a stop to the provider, and there was a minimum charge for two SMS messages at $5 each to subscribe, so I am advised that even to get out of this scheme it can cost you $10 minimum.

Obviously, that raised a series of concerns. We received a number of complaints. It was reported on a number of talkback programs and, again, it elicited a number of concerns and complaints, many of which have subsequently been passed through to the Office of Consumer and Business Affairs. I am advised that the advice line has received numerous calls from the public alleging that their entry form did not disclose fees applied and that, in some cases, full terms and conditions were not disclosed on the ticket and could be viewed only on the promoter's website.

I am advised and have reported on radio that, for those people whose ticket did not contain a printing of the fees associated with the texting facility, there is a possibility that they can receive a refund but, for those tickets that had that information, there is still some question mark and I will go on to talk about that. I am further advised that the Gambling Commissioner is investigating, which is the responsibility of minister Carmel Zollo. My understanding is that they are investigating matters around the compliance with the conditions on the licence issued by the Commissioner. I am advised that this competition did have a permit, but there is some concern about whether or not the conditions on the permit have been met. My understanding is that that is currently under investigation as well.

OCBA is currently investigating the promotion to ensure that it complies with our state fair trading laws. OCBA has also referred a number of specific complaints to the ACCC, given that it has broad powers and given that the promotion has the potential to be operating in a number of other states where the permits have also been granted, as I understand it. One of the other things that OCBA is investigating is whether it is legitimate for a competition like this to put forward a prize for which that person must register potentially to win a prize and, what is more, that it costs money for them to do that. That investigation is being made as to whether or not that complies with the current act.

At this point in time, only those people whose ticket did not have the conditions printed on the back are eligible for a refund, I am advised, and, once the investigations are completed, I will be making public that advice. Other officers and I have been on radio raising awareness of problems around this type of competition and making the public aware of the costs associated with texting in response to that particular competition.