Mobile phone scams + perils of contextual advertising

I saw an AdMob ad for an “X-Ray Scan” in the Viigo application, which reminded me of the x-ray glasses you would see advertised in comic books along with Sea Monkeys and what-not (living outside of the US as a kid, I was always intrigued by these products yet they were also out of my reach – ironically exactly the point here as we’ll see), and so I “thumbwheeled” on the ad.

It was for mobile wallpaper that looks like an x-ray scan. And of course, I can get lots of other fun wallpapers and ringtones for “just 9.99/mo”. Remember to remove the $ sign, I’m sure, it’s not by accident. I clicked on the terms link. Very¬† sparse, almost non-existent. About – was blank except for a graphic that has the name 28282 on it and very little else. How did I know it was running via AdMob? The title of the page in my browser is “X Ray AdMob”. I have no doubt that these ads are making a whole heckuva lot of money for these guys.

I decided to find out more about 28282 and did a search for them online. I found the Club 28282 page on Class Action Connect and it was quite sad. Lots of posts from parents, kids, people thinking that by complaining on this board someone was going to help them because they were unable to stop the services and/or the SMS spam that accompanied it. One person had over $500 of charges racked up by their 11-year old. Etc. Etc. Read some of the comments. Go on.

What was crazy though, was that I first read this page on my browser, with no ads to speak of, but when I looked again online in a full browser, this is what I saw:

Ringtones ripoff ads

Ringtones ripoff ads

Unreal – Google contextually targeting ringtones and basically pouring salt into the wounds of anyone visiting here by displaying similar ads for the very services people are here to complain about. This stuff is toxic, but the carriers make a lot of money out it and it appears as if they are okay letting the cycle of bad experience – complaint – chargeback go on. I heard a story recently (perhaps apocryphal? sounds very plausible though) of someone who was a big hero back in the day at MCI Worldcom since they figured out a regulation/legal loophole to add a $1 “service fee” onto every customer’s bill. If you called in they would automatically remove it but it was a quick way for them to make millions of extra dollars.

Forget about the ads it runs, for Google, becoming a mobile phone hardware company will give them all the customer service headaches they could ever want. Couldn’t imagine being a phone carrier. Good luck.