Dialog & VAS: The invisible charges on your bill

Recently, many Dialog customers woke up to an unpleasant surprise on their bills. They discovered that they were being charged for services they didn’t use. The culprits? Valued Added Services or VAS. These seemingly innocent services had added an extra Rs. 1000 to the bills of some customers. How did this happen and what can you do about it?

An introduction to VAS

Value Added Services can be defined as services beyond standards voice calls, text messages, and data access. In other words, VAS refers to anything that Dialog or other telecom operators offers you beyond basic connectivity. Dialog describes them as, “Our Value Added Services give you additional features from Call Management to updating your Facebook status.”

You can find a comprehensive list of these Value Added Services on the Dialog website. This extends to Dialog Television and Fixed Line connections as well. Digging through these lists, you’ll find that there is no standard price for these services. As such, they can vary drastically.

The list goes on with even more variations. The only way of classifying these services is by recurring and one-time charges. Those like placing advertisements have high one time charges. However, what makes VAS so terrifying are the ones with cheap recurring charges. They might look cheap but those small amounts can add up.

Take the example of news alerts. When you first get your connection you might get a text promoting it. You might think, “Hmmm…….it only costs Rs. 1 and will probably be handy” and sign up for it. Soon you get messages for more value-added services.

From one such service, it becomes ten then twenty and then thirty. Even then you might be spending Rs. 30 per day. Over the course of a month, that adds up to Rs. 900 on your bill under VAS. That’s not even counting the 37.70% tax on these services. For comparison, the tax on data services is 19.74%.

Furthermore, as we learned recently, the number next to VAS isn’t always under your control. There were instances where customers learned that services had been activated without their knowledge. But what’s more common is customers forgetting all about these services after signing up for them. With Dialog, in particular, there are no notifications or messages telling customers that they’re paying for such services on a daily basis.

So how can you regain control of your bill?

At the moment, the Dialog Self-Care app lists all the Value Added Services you’ve signed up for. In theory, you should be able to disable them from the app as well. However, in practice, this wasn’t the case for us. My colleague Lahiru had found that he was being charged for some services without his knowledge.  

He found that he was subscribed to Helakuru Pro and was paying Rs. 50 per month for RingIN Tones. Weirdly I never heard anything besides the normal dial tone when calling him. Through the Dialog Self-Care app he was able to disable Helakuru Pro. However, when he tried to disable RingIN Tones, he got an error message. So he called customer support and luckily got it disabled.  

And these may not always go smoothly. Muhammed Aadhil – a Dialog customer on Facebook said, “The customer service representative first said I was subscribed to SMS blast and wallpapers download and on the second call they said I was subscribed to idea beam.”

Now to Dialog’s credit, they’ve introduced a VAS consent server. The purpose of this server is to ensure there’s an extra step to obtain the full consent of customers. Yet, one could argue that this isn’t enough because this only applies to the initial sign up. Thus, it’s still easy to forget about these services after signing up.

And then you’ll see the number next to VAS on your bill increase without giving it a second thought. Meanwhile, Dialog would legally face no consequences. After all, you gave them your consent.

How do other telecom operators fare?

It should be noted that Dialog isn’t the only operator that offers value added services. All the telecom operators offer such services. It’s just that Dialog customers woke up to realize how much they were paying for unnecessary VAS services. But how do the other telecom operators fare?

When it comes to Mobitel, it’s hard to say. Firstly, they have two almost pages describing their value added services. One focuses on roaming while the second focuses on more varied VAS offerings. In this instance, we’re looking at the second page. Here we found that Mobitel has a more consistent pricing scheme compared to Dialog.

Most of Mobitel services have a fixed cost per day/month + taxes. These range from Rs. 1 to Rs. 3 for daily alerts to prepaid customers and Rs. 30 monthly for postpaid customers. Airtel too while having less services, adopts a similar consistent pricing scheme. The same can be said for Hutch, which also has a page dedicated to informing customers how to deactivate VAS services.

Based on this, we can see that Dialog seems to be the odd one out with a weird inconsistent price scheme for VAS services. To disable these services you can send a text message, login to your account, or like with Dialog call customer support. But enabling or disabling these services isn’t the challenge.

With Dialog in particular, once you sign up you don’t get a reminder of how much you’re spending on these services each month. The only indicator is the number next to VAS on your bill being higher. So if you want to control your bill then you still need to keep a sharp eye on your bill. Unless you’re feeling generous and would like to make a few donations to Dialog.

The post Dialog & VAS: The invisible charges on your bill appeared first on README.

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