Dubai resident dreams of winning $1 million but gets huge Etisalat bill instead

In early April I responded to a competition promoted on the MBC TV channel inviting viewers to text the word Dream for a chance to win US$1 million by answering some questions. At no time, either on the screen or after my first SMS response, or after checking the website did I see any mention of charges to be levied per SMS. So I responded and eventually answered 472 questions by SMS as the odds looked good. Then on April 22, I received an SMS from Etisalat telling me that I had reached 90 per cent of my usage limit with a total amount outstanding of Dh3,659. I went to Etisalat and asked how my bill had gone from a fixed Dh350 to over Dh3,500. They didn’t know and initiated an investigation. They then called me back to say the charges were from a company called City Telecommunications, which was linked to the competition. On MBC’s English website, there is no mention of the “Dream” competition. As far as Etisalat is concerned, I have to pay the bill and take it up with MBC. According to the total due, Etisalat are charging me Dh5 per SMS instead of the standard 25 fils normally charged. Had I known that I would have only sent them a few SMSs. BH, Dubai

This is a substantial bill and I forwarded the query to MBC. A spokeswoman commented: “The rate is Dh5 per SMS. It is officially published on our website under terms and conditions. We always make sure to communicate this in our promos. The person in question has no excuse not to know the rate; he could have called Etisalat or even MBC to check if he wanted, especially if he was planning on sending over 400 SMSs. Any monthly package from a service provider cannot be used for premium SMS. These are usually paid separately.” It would have been wise for BH to have checked the terms as competitions such as these are often funded by the money earned from text messages. I could not find the details of the competition in English and MBC has confirmed that the terms and conditions were only on its website in Arabic.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai. Contact her at Follow her on Twitter at @FinancialUAE.

The advice provided in our columns does not constitute legal advice and is provided for information only.

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