Ringtone and text message rip-offs
Within the past two years, this scourge of the wireless world has infected millions of cellular phones in America. They are the seemingly harmless programmed sounds your phone makes when there is an incoming call or message. However, deceptive sales pitches for these phones have created headaches for subscribers and occasional earaches for some who overhear these tones.
Anyone who watches MTV has probably seen ads for a company called Jamster.com, which sells polyphonic ringtones as well as cruder, monophonic versions for older handsets. They reflect a wide variety of musical tastes and, in some cases, lack of taste. They generally cost about two or three dollars or so and are no more than 25 seconds long.
Jamster, The Mobs, Mediaplazza and Dirty Hippo are a few of the companies that have made an industry out of those willing to pay money for graphics, screen savers and ringtones over the internet. Jamster is perhaps the most obnoxious of the companies. Its ads can be found anywhere from pop-ups to commercials on TV. Cell phone carriers such as Verizon and Cingular also sell ringtones and wallpapers to their customers.
So far, it's mostly younger consumers indulging in this form of mobile music-making. According to market analysis firm Consect, 50% of all cell phone users in the U.S. between the ages of 15-30 have downloaded a ringtone at least once. That adds up to big business; ringtones pulled in more than $300 million in revenue in the U.S. in 2004, and this year, that revenue should surge to more than $600 million. Worldwide, it's a more than $4 billion market--already about a tenth of the size of the overall global music market. By far, ringtones represent the largest source of non-voice revenue for carriers. And of course, "It wasn't me", enters frequently into their discussions with parents. These kids are downloading so called "FREE" or “low-cost” ringtones without a clue as to what they are doing, resulting in some serious financial repercussions for themselves and their parents.
Most consumers think they are just buying a ringtone for $2. But that’s where the catch begins. Many of the offerings lock you into a weekly or monthly “subscription service” that is charged to your cell phone bill. Easy to get into; tough to get out. The companies make canceling next to impossible. Fortunately, California customers who find themselves ensnared in the ringtone traps have some recourse.