You’re not alone. It’s a topic of discussion around many a braai fire in South Africa. People top up their airtime and data only to find out that it has somehow vanished within a day or two.

It’s already apparent that airtime and data are pricey in South Africa when compared to the rest of the world. So, users feel they’re being robbed twice. The first time is by the prohibitively expensive pricing structures cell phone service providers offer.

The second time is by the fact that our hard-earned money seems to be chomped up by airtime and data that disappears.

But is that what really happens?

Experts suggest that, contrary to belief, cell phone service providers don’t steal data and airtime. The problem is far more complex than that. The case of the captured airtime and data is the fault of the WASP.

Not the noisy insect flying around your home in summer. A WASP is a wireless application service provider.

You might never have heard of a WASP. And if you’ve never heard of it, surely you don’t have it? That’s not true. Because it seems that WASPs operate in the background without your knowledge or consent.

They subscribe you to their content without letting you know. Now you’re paying a subscription fee that you haven’t authorised. It is deducted from your airtime or data balance.

The subscription fee may sound like a small amount. For instance, it could be R7 a day. Add that up, and it’s R210 a month. And it’s gone without your permission.

WASPs are big moneymakers.

A study shows that people take on average four months to figure out that they’ve fallen prey to a WASP. By that time, they’ve spent R840 of their airtime for something they didn’t even ask for.

If a WASP manages to get 1,200 subscribers who unwittingly pay it for four months, it has generated a R1 million income. Instead of generated, let’s use the right word: stolen.

How do they do it?

Have you ever had one of those SMS messages that says, “Someone sent you a Photo MMS message! Open it now on www…..” Clicking on the link takes the cell phone user to a website where it seems they must click on the subscribe button to access the MMS.

The nature of the subscription and the fees charged are usually in the fine print which users tend not to read. When the user sees that they’re not interested, they exit the site. But by then, it’s too late.

They’ve subscribed and are about to spend a considerable sum of money with no discernible benefit.

The way forward

Cell phone service providers have options for users to check if they have any active WASP service subscriptions. They can then cancel them to avoid spending any more money. Search your service provider’s site for advice on how to deal with WASPs.

Don’t bank on getting your money back, though. The WASPs are good at concealing their true identities. The subscriptions move through multiple organisations who point the finger of blame at each other.

It seems that no one will protect you against the WASPs except you. Keep an eye on your airtime and data balances. If they seem to be depleted quickly, you might be the unknowing victim of a WASP.

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