How I caught Airtel Nigeria stealing my airtime through value-added services

Around the start of December 2017, I noticed that I was starting to recharge my Airtel line a lot more than usual. On a normal day, 100 Naira credit on my Airtel line lasts me for 2 to 3 days, since I don’t make a lot of calls. However, I noticed around that time that I had to buy 100 Naira credit at least, once or twice per day!

For the first few weeks of noticing this change, I had attributed the increased drain on my airtime to the newly introduced charges on my bank’s USSD short code. I happened to be doing some study on my bank’s USSD menu at the time. For this reason, I had to dial the code several times a day. It was during this study that I noticed that each time I dialed the USSD code, Airtel was deducting between 5 and 10 Naira from my airtime balance. Appalling in it’s own way, but that’s a story for another day.

My USSD study took about two weeks. Of course, at the end, I expected that my airtime usage would go back to normal since I had stopped dialing USSD codes frequently. To my surprise however, I continued to have to recharge about 200 Naira everyday, even though I wasn’t making more than a couple of 1 to 2 minute calls each day on my Airtel line.

At this point, I was sure something fishy was going on here. I decided to pay closer attention to how my airtime was being debited for the next couple of days. This was when I realized that indeed, some illegal charges (which are not due to my intentional usage of the network) were being deducted from me.

On Christmas eve, as soon as I was sure that I was being robbed, I dialed Airtel customer care on 111 immediately. I noticed that they’ve increased the number of hoops that you have to jump through to be able to speak to a customer care agent. Or maybe it’s just me.

Once I laid my complaint in a few words, the lady who spoke to me wasted no time in explaining to me that I was being charged for VAS (Value-Added Services on a daily basis). She told me that today, I have already been charged 30 Naira for one VAS and 50 Naira for another! She then advised me to dial the USSD short code *902# which I can use to stop all my current VAS subscriptions.

I was so excited, knowing that finally, I had nipped this problem in the bud. I went ahead to dial *902# and to my bewilderment, I found up to 5 different active VAS subscription in the list. Unbelievable! I had to dial the *902# VAS-management code 5 different times to deactivate all the nonsensical value-stealing services which Airtel had fraudulently enrolled me for. When I dialed the STOP code the 6th time, I got a message from Airtel, letting me know that I do not have any active VAS subscriptions.

Hurray! Finally, things are be back to normal once more. Or so I thought.

On boxing day, I loaded 100 Naira made a couple of calls and voila, by 6 pm of the same day, I was once again out of airtime. Now furious, I dialed 111 once again and explained that I noticed abnormal deductions in my airtime. I went mad the moment she told me that today, I was charged 50 Naira, for a — you guessed it — VAS!!!

Increasing the intensity of my voice to send a clear message of hostility, I asked her point blank why I was still being charged for a VAS when I had clearly stated my disinterest in any of their useless value-added services.

It was at this point that she let me know how not all VAS subscriptions can be stopped using the *902# short code. “Absolutely ridiculous”, I thought to myself! After screaming to reiterate my stance on any VAS subscription, she promised to immediately cancel all VAS subscriptions on my line. She also texted me instructions for deactivating one particular VAS which she could not from her end.

After this episode, I have as usual been paying very close attention to my airtime usage and I think the illegal charges have mostly, if not completely disappeared. It’s hard to keep track of airtime usage so I really can’t say for sure. But at least, the fact that 100 Naira airtime now lasts me for 2 to 3 days once again is evidence enough that my efforts were not in vain.

P.S. In case you were wondering, I wrote an article about why I’m so miserly as to buy 100 Naira airtime.

UPDATE 1 (New year’s 2018)

All I can think of after that is how I’m doomed to having to always be on guard to prevent unwanted charges on my cellphone account. What a shame! Fuck you Airtel! You thieving bastards. Wondering if there’s anything I can do to get my own pound of flesh for this injustice.

A millennial’s story