A new investigation revealed that Vodacom has billed its subscribers for content services without their permission. In simple terms, it means Vodacom is stealing airtime from its own customers.
Airtime theft and fraudulent subscriptions are nothing new on Vodacom’s network, but to date, the operator has blamed rogue WASPs for this fraud.
A large percentage of the fraudulent billing occurred through Vodacom’s “Charge To Bill” gateway, which allows content providers to subscribe users and bill them for the content.
When confronted with the claim that this gateway enables content providers to steal airtime from its subscribers, Vodacom dismissed the allegation.
The operator denied that it facilitates fraudulent activity on its network, maintaining that it has numerous measures in place to protect its subscribers.
Even after providing Vodacom with conclusive evidence of how airtime was stolen despite these security measures, Vodacom still refused to accept responsibility.
Instead, Vodacom blamed rogue wireless application service providers (WASPs), claiming they had found ways to bypass Vodacom’s security measures.
It is worth noting that Vodacom can easily stop this fraud from occurring by blocking WASP billing by default, but the operator refuses to implement this solution.
Vodacom caught stealing airtime from its subscribers
Two Vodacom subscribers who were victims of airtime theft provided MyBroadband with their account statements.
These statements contained a surprise – Vodacom was one of the companies who stole airtime from them.
Vodacom billed one subscriber for two content services every day – priced at R6.09 (Ex VAT) and R4.35 (Ex VAT) each – until they picked up this fraud.
The other subscriber was also billed by Vodacom for two services, priced at R6.96 (Ex VAT) and R4.35 (Ex VAT) respectively per day.
When these subscribers contacted Vodacom to investigate the fraud which occurred on their accounts, the operator’s first move was to lay the blame at their feet.
The Vodacom agent said they must have clicked on a banner or subscribed through the Vodacom app.
After informing Vodacom that they do not use the Vodacom app or click on banners, the operator agreed to reverse the charges and block WASP billing on the number.
Vodacom’s previous strategy of blaming rogue WASPs does not hold in this case, as it was Vodacom itself which billed these subscribers as shown in the screenshots below.
MyBroadband asked Vodacom how these users were subscribed to content services without their consent, but the company could not answer this question.
The Vodacom bills below show the fraudulent subscriptions and airtime theft from two subscribers.
Vodacom said it strongly denies allegations that “have led to MyBroadband repeatedly accusing Vodacom of knowingly facilitating fraudulent activity on its network”.
Vodacom added that it is aware of MyBroadband’s rationale for wanting to keep its “single source” anonymous.
However, Vodacom said it “respectfully contends that MyBroadband also has a duty, particularly when it is relevant, to inform its readers of the source’s motives”.
MyBroadband informed Vodacom that the articles and investigations over the past few weeks were based on multiple sources, as well as Vodacom subscribers who have been victims of airtime theft.
It is therefore not a “single source” with an ulterior motive, but rather numerous victims of fraud on Vodacom’s network and industry players trying to prevent this fraud.
When we asked Vodacom whether they were aware that they are fraudulently subscribing their own customers to WASP services, Vodacom did answer the question.
Instead, a Vodacom spokesperson told MyBroadband their investigation into this matter has yet to run its course.
As part of the investigation, Vodacom has requested and received opt-in and SMS billing confirmations from the relevant content service partners.
This includes service providers that provide a service on Vodacom’s behalf and appear on a customer’s bill as a Vodacom service.
“Pending the outcome of our investigation, and while we validate this information, certain services have and are being suspended on a temporary basis,” Vodacom said.
Should they find that partners have transgressed contractual service levels, they will take appropriate action including the claw-back of funds, the termination of agreements and other legal action.
“Naturally we will also undertake to proactively refund customers and reiterate our commitment to ensuring that affected customers are fully refunded on first contact with Customer Care,” Vodacom said.
“We pass the large majority of credits to customers, as our standard practice is to refund the customer first and then investigate the query later.”
Vodacom taking action
Vodacom said in an effort to continuously improve its systems to detect and prevent fraud, it is in the process of enhancing the security measures across its network.
A complete review for an enhanced security software vendor through an RFP.
Implementation of an enhanced double opt-in journey for both Vodacom and third-party services where relevant.
Additional subscription reminders to ensure awareness and transparency.
Focus on additional elements like WASPA association for third party vendors.
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