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article imageCompany stuck disabled teen with $8000 texting phone bill

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By Yukio Strachan     May 7, 2012 in Lifestyle
First his girlfriend fools him, then his phone company. Now, the Canadian teen, who is mentally disabled, has been asked to pay an $8,000 cell phone bill for the whole month long ordeal.
“She had told me that she would meet me maybe in July…once we were ready,” 19-year-old Brandon Kobza told the CBC about his girlfriend,“Katya”.
Kobza is a former foster child with fetal alcohol syndrome and other disabilities.
Because he didn’t qualify for a cellphone contract on his own, Ben Woodman, a church youth worker from Burnaby, B.C., reluctantly agreed to put the phone in his name, but with limits.
“I said, 'You know I don’t want any data or extra charges' and they said, ‘We can block that.' I made sure he had unlimited texts,” said Woodman.
“I put a lot of faith in Koodo. I’m asking the representative 'What can go wrong ? Can I get charged for anything else?' And they said nothing about premium texts.”
But he would soon find out.
She told him that she loved him.
When a friend told Kobza he could meet a someone special on a text dating site, he registered his new cell phone number on youtext.com – a premium texting service – which, through Koodo, charges $2 per text, the CBC reported.
His friend was right. After he met a girl, he exchanged 4,000 texts with her. “Katya” flirted with him by text several times a day.
"On there, she's like 'I love you a lot' and I’m like – 'Cool'," said Kobza.
But what wasn't so cool, was the phone bill.
After he saw the bills — $8,243.06 for a month and a half — Woodman cancelled Kobza’s phone.
Youtext did send several notices, by text, warning charges were being incurred, but Woodman said Kobza simply didn't comprehend what they meant.
“It’s preying on the weak. It’s preying on people. It’s preying on kids with cell phones,” Woodman said.
“I just feel ripped off. With my disability, I only get $900 a month. That’s not enough to even pay like a portion of [the bill],” Kobza said.
Woodman said he also asked Koodo to cancel the texting charges, but the most the company would offer was 80 per cent off.
Kobza not alone
According to the Huffington Post, consumer advocates and the industry’s regulatory agency say they've heard countless complaints about premium texts, from wireless consumers who signed up on dating sites or from sites that send a “joke of the day”, for example.
“We continue to receive complaints…I can’t give you an exact number but related issues have been raised hundreds of times this year,” said Howard Maker, the commissioner for complaints for telecom services, in an email.
“The wireless carriers perform a 'billing and collection' role in connection with the premium text messaging program. This is definitely a 'for profit' exercise on their part," Maker said.
Although Koodo Mobile is not accredited with the Better Business Bureau, they've registered 147 complaints with the mobile carrier according to their web site.
Koodo Mobile Better Business Review in Toronto
Koodo Mobile Better Business Review in Toronto
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We are sorry
Since this case went public, Koodo has apologized for what happened in this case and the charges have been cancelled, CBC TV reports.
“We have investigated what occurred here, and it seems some errors have been made. We’re taking steps to correct those immediately,” Koodo Moblie spokesman Kevin Banderk said.
"We are sorry this happened. Further, we are following up with youtext.com and all premium text message providers to formally remind them of the $500 cap and insist it be followed.
"Finally, we are meeting with the Koodo agents involved to remind them of our policies, and will be sending a reminder out to all of our agents."
“If they forgave my bill, I would not necessarily care to come to [Go Public]," Woodman told CBC TV. " But in some ways I’m glad that we get to do some of these stories, because people need to know. You can get totally ripped off.”
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