Comments made by lawyer Mikhail Ilyin to an article titled “Pay for your neighbour”

14 February 2011

Any citizen of the Russian Federation even if he doesn't use a cellphone, can suddenly run into debt of some hundred thousand roubles. Due to their refuse to limit the possibility of “going into the red”, major mobile operators ceased to control sign ups (subscribers identities): in fact, today one may purchase a SIM card and to subscribe under an assumed name, particularly, the name of one’s “enemy” (boss, neighbour, rival, etc.). It is the “enemy” who shall be billed for the accumulated debt.

Members of parliament and officials strive to settle this problem. A draft law limiting expenses to be incurred by subscriber in roaming mode and thus limiting potential debt to 3 000 roubles, is already submitted to the State Duma. On February, 10 the Federal Antimonopoly Service gave another order to operators – members of The Big Three, i. e. Mobile Telesystems (MTS), Vympelkom (Beeline) and Megaphon: they were ordered to introduce notification of subscribers about changes in writedown plan in foreign travel before April, 1.

My documents are whiskers, paws and tail.

Incurrence of large debts is connected with roaming. All the said major operators apply the so-called offline billing–information on actually provided services rendered abroad comes to Russian company after a long delay, sometimes about several days. All through this period neither operator, nor subscriber are informed of roaming expenses and the real account balance, and when subscriber shall be back, he can be billed for tens and hundreds of thousands roubles. The most juicy scandal broke out when a newly wedded couple went to Greece and allegedly “spent” over 1 million roubles on downloads via USB-modem! Megaphon filed a suit against the bride’s mom (the subscriber agreement was issued in her name), and the court arrested her property. No assurance can be given that even the most careful subscriber shall not end up in such situation.

A reporter of Fontanka took interest in an offer of St.-Petersburg major mobile operator (calls for 33 copecks), loudly promoted by an attractive brown-haired lady at the subway station entrance. He decided to go into details, however, he was bowled over by a question from the representative of the cellular company: “How do you prefer to subscribe to mobile service - will you submit your passport or not?”

The first thing that popped into his head was to present himself as the president or the prime minister, or, at least as the governor (the obvious gender inconsistency would hardly frustrate the transaction). Other versions included: the neighbour from the flat upstairs who has damaged reporter’s flat by letting water leak in, the rival in love affairs, the boss etc. However, the reporter meant no harm to anyone, so he just told the girl his nickname, and she entered this nickname into the subscriber agreement, and promised him to invent passport details and addresses. As a result, the reporter paid 100 roubles, got a SIM card with two hundreds on his account and was offered 2 days of unlimited roaming.

Another mobile operator was promoted by an equally hot blonde. The only difference being that blonde asked the reporter to pay an extra amount of 20 roubles - to subscribe to mobile service without documents (he just had to submit his “whiskers and tail”)…

However, it is common knowledge that dealers behave this way, and Fontanka has reported of it more than once.

It's not my fault...

How many subscriber agreements were issued in other people’s names is anyone's guess. Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications Companies swear that they are combatting unfair dealers and employees. For instance, the Megaphon press-service told the reporter of Fontanka that should dealers commit any violations, they shall be exposed to fines. SkyLink works the same way: “Should a citizen specified as the subscriber deny his involvement in execution of an agreement, an internal check shall be carried out, – explained Artem Litvinov, Chief Commercial Officer of SkyLink Severo-Zapad. – Contracts stipulate that fines shall be applied to a dealer which allowed such subscription to be made”.

This company protected itself from large debts incurred by “anonymous” subscribers: clients shall access the international roaming service only should they come bodily to one of the service centers, and submit their passports and make a prepayment. Such procedure was earlier applied by MTS– roaming services were activated only via service centers. But now any individual subscribed not less than a year before can do it by simply sending an SMS.

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