How the Scam Works—My Experience with and Cingular Wireless (now AT&T Wireless)

In December of 2004 I was searching on Google for lyrics when I noticed amongst my search results an offer for free ringtone downloads. I'm not the kind of person who cares much about having a fancy ring on my cell phone (after all, my Nokia 3310 only plays monotone rings, and besides, I'm too old for such silliness), but it said "free" so I decided to explore.

When I found the song I wanted to download, the instructions said, "Enter your cell phone number to get this on your phone." A few moments after I did so, my phone beeped indicating I had a text message. The message informed me that the ring tone had been downloaded to my cell phone. Then I simply selected my new ringtone for my "Normal" profile on my phone, and voilà, Smoke on the Water plays whenever I receive a call!

A great free service, right? Not so fast! By all appearances it was free. After all it said it was free. And I never gave them any means by which to charge me—I mean they don't even know my name, my address, certainly not my credit card number, and I never entered into any legal agreement with them. The only information I gave them was my cell phone number (in fact, what's to keep me from putting in someone else's cell phone number?). It was inconceivable to me that it could be anything but free.

What I couldn't conceive of was that the cell phone service companies would be compliant in a wide-spread, albeit petty, scam to collect money for unscrupulous businesses. A few weeks later I received my bill from Cingular Wireless (who is now AT&T Wireless) that included an extra $7.96 charge for my "free" ringtone. The charge appeared in a section titled "Credits, Adjustments, and Other Charges." The $7.96 charge was composed of 4 separate charges, at $1.99 each; each labeled "Direct Bill Charges."

When I contacted Cingular customer service, they didn't believe me. They insisted that I must have used a "premium text messaging" service, such as voting for someone on American Idol. Sorry, not my style. Finally after long waits on hold and arguing at length, I was transferred to a supervisor who promised to turn off text messaging for my phone but claimed that he could not cancel the bogus charges for me. He said I could try to dispute them through their Direct Bill department, but only online. He claimed there was no way to reach them by phone. After huffing and puffing, I agreed to go online to dispute the charges. I went to, where I had to create a new login to get started. After doing so, they informed me that they were sending me a text message with a confirmation code that I had to type in to the web page to complete my registration. My text messaging had been turned off, so I never received it!

After a few more phone calls (with long wait times and multiple transfers), I finally got ahold of someone who said they could cancel the charges. There were various other problems, like the charges showing up again on the next month's bill (it turns out Jamster is selling "subscriptions," not individual ringtones). In the end, Cingular straightened it out; but this was only after they received the complaint I made to the Better Business Bureau (

What will it take for the Jamster scam to stop? Maybe a class-action suit against all of the cell phone service providers. Who knows?


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