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FINED: Optus cops $10 million penalty for charging customers for digital content they never meant to buy

Optus is Australia’s second largest telecommunications company. ( Photos: Getty)

Optus has been whacked with a $10 million penalty by the Federal Court for wrongly charging customers for digital content, such as games or ringtones, that they didn’t realise they had purchased through Optus’ third-party billing service.

The direct carrier billing (DCB) service allows customers to make purchases or subscriptions with just one or two clicks online that are then billed to the customer.

Optus admitted that customers were not told that the DCB service was a default setting in their accounts, and were not informed that they’d be billed directly by Optus for any content purchased – intentionally or unintentionally – through the DCB service.

The telco also admitted it had known since at least April 2014 that customers were being wrongly charged for this.

Optus earns commissions on items sold through the DCB service.

Optus tried to evade the problem

Even though the telco racked up more than 600,000 enquiries about the service, Optus failed to put in place the relevant safeguards and deferred questions about the service from customers to third parties.

Customers wanting to cancel the purchases and obtain refunds then encountered “significant difficulties” in dealing with these third parties.

“In many cases, Optus customers had no idea they were buying anything, and certainly did not need or want the content for which they were being charged,” said ACCC chair Rod Sims.

“Optus failed to take appropriate action, choosing instead to continue to charge customers and collect commissions on these sales, even after numerous complaints.

So far, Optus has paid around 240,000 customers approximately $8 million in refunds, and third party providers have been refunded $13 million.

But the ACCC warned that there were likely to be many more affected customers that haven’t yet been refunded, given the volume of enquiries to Optus about the DCB service.

If you suspect you might be wrongly charged for purchases you didn’t intend to make, check your Optus mobile account or contact Optus on 13 39 37.

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