A Hanoi-based mobile service provider has been fined VND50 million (US$2,232) for stealing money from users thanks to a secret prebuilt function in devices manufactured by three Chinese companies it partnered with to run the scam.
Vinamob Co. Ltd. offers multiple premium rate services, those that charge mobile phone users directly from their account balance, via numbers of the 8x61 format, with x ranging from 0 to 9.
The company partnered with three Chinese phone makers, having them install a secret function in their handsets which would automatically send messages to the 8x61 services without the users’ knowledge or consent.
Those who bought these made-in-China devices then repeatedly lost money from their account balance without knowing why, according to inspectors under the Hanoi Department of Information and Communications.
Vinamob and the three Chinese firms connected their servers to enable the fraud. Those texts sent to the 8x61 services would not be stored in the phone’s message log or history.
The information and communications department, however, did not name the three Chinese phone makers in their inspection conclusions announced on Monday.
Most of the victims of Vinamob live in rural and remote areas, where cheap Chinese-made mobile phones are ubiquitous because consumers are mostly low-income earners, according to the inspectors.
Users said they had never used the 8x61 services but money kept disappearing from their account balance.
The information and communications inspectors ruled that Vinamob violated the anti-spam laws, and was therefore subject to a VND50 million fine.
The firm was also required to suspend all of its 8x61 services for two months and refund the subscribers it had stolen the money from, according to the inspectors.