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Sad face: Emoticon users face massive phone bills

People including emoticons in their text messages could be unexpectedly racking up huge phone bills.

According to the BBC, the issue particularly affects older handsets, which can convert emoticons into MMS communications, triggering costs as high as 40p per message.

Read more: Vodafone the worst mobile network for the second year running: EE, Three and O2 take gold, silver and bronze medals

The problem is known to affect Samsung’s Galaxy S1, S2, S3, and S4 smartphones, as well as the Galaxy Note 1, 2, 3 and Galaxy Ace. It is thought that older versions of Apple’s iPhone operating on iOS8 may also be affected.

Paula Cochrane, from Airdrie, Scotland, faced a phone bill in excess of £1,000 from her network provider EE after adding emoticons to her text messages. She now plans to take her case to the Scottish ombudsman after already complaining to her mobile operator.

MoneySavingExpert also discovered that some users making their own emoticons from various punctuation marks were having these automatically converted into emoticons and were subject to the same charges. Managing editor of the website Guy Anker believes that companies need to make their charges more transparent.

"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," he said. "Why on earth would someone sending a text message think it would be sent as a picture message?"

The UK’s second largest telecommunications provider O2 explained that there were a number of factors that could lead to customers being billed for an MMS message.

"If a customer is using a smartphone to send text messages to more than one person at the same time, they could be charged the cost of sending an MMS. It can also happen when the message contains icons, emoticons and symbols or an email address,” said a company spokesperson.

“And some apps (such as Facebook) that integrate with a customer's contact list in their smartphone may result in an MMS charge too."

Read more: Lost for words? Then this emoji-only social network could be just for you

O2 did outline ways that customers could avoid unexpected costs, but worried smartphone users may want to use free messaging services such as iMessage and WhatsApp in order to keep bills down.

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with IT Pro Portal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.