Emoticons in text messages leave Brits with huge monthly mobile phone bills

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If you are in the UK and using a pre-April 2014 manufactured smartphone particularly from Samsung, you could be at risk of being charged hundreds of pounds for sending emoticons through text messages.

This is exactly what has happened with quite a few Brits who are using a Samsung Galaxy S, S2, S3, Note, Note 2, Note 3 and Galaxy Ace handsets. These handsets are known to have handled emoticons created through simple characters like colons and brackets by turning them into picture messages.

Picture messaging or Multi-Media Messaging Service (MMS) isn’t included as part of the free allowance in monthly tariffs and users who are often using emoticons in their conversations with friends and family are being charged for each of these – as high as 40p per emoticon.

In one of the extreme cases of a user being charged for emoticons is the case of Paula Cochrane, of Airdrie in Scotland. She was hit with a bill amounting to almost £1,200 and most of the charges were for picture messages.

It all started when Cochrane signed up for a new contract with Everything Everywhere (EE). Initial bill of just over £100.92 did ring alarm bell, but she thought that she might be overusing her phone than normal. However, later bill of £449 hinted at the fact that something was up. The latest bill of eye-watering £1,192 forced Cochrane to take her case with UK’s communication ombudsman, where it is still waiting to be resolved.

EE on its part revealed that the issue is to do with settings on the handset over which it has no control and is a manufacturer issue and not that needs to be dealt by the service provider.

“There are a number of factors which can affect whether customers are charged for sending an emoji, usually by the settings on the handset and so [it] is a manufacturer, rather than a network, issue,” an EE spokesperson said. EE further revealed that they offered to knock of £100 off the bill, but Cochrane denied.

Samsung has given out a statement wherein it has said that if a phone’s setting is set such that it will convert an SMS to MMS, a warning is displayed to user before being sent and that users need to take notice of this warning.

“We can confirm that as of April 2014, every Samsung mobile device has a default setting that classifies emoticon images as an SMS and not an MMS,” a Samsung spokesperson said. “For older devices, if a message is going to be converted from an SMS into an MMS, a warning message is displayed to inform the user. We advise our customers to check their mobile phone tariffs if they are unsure of any charges related to SMS and MMS as well as the advisory notices displayed on their handset.”

MoneySavingExpert team has received a number of complaints from people who found themselves racking up huge charges for sending emoticons. “We have seen many complaints from our users who have racked up huge bills for sending what they thought were text messages,” said Guy Anker, managing editor of MoneySavingExpert. “It is worth complaining to mobile phone providers if this was not made clear enough to you when you would be charged for a picture message.”