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Dial M for Madagascar

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Telephone services watchdog ICSTIS has begun an investigation into a British porn site after it was found to be ripping off punters with its premium rate phone service, writes Andrew Smith.

Visitors to UKPage3.com - which, despite its name, is not linked to British tabloid, The Sun - are told that they need to "download a small program to be able to access to (sic) our servers."

When the 58Kb program is downloaded and run, it disconnects the visitor's modem and reconnects to a premium rate line charged at £1.50 per minute.

Visitors to the site are not warned about the premium rate access charge until after they have downloaded and run the re-dialler software. Even then they are only warned after a list of terms and conditions, displayed in a small text box.

ICSTIS said the site violates several of its regulations.

"Pricing information must be prominently displayed," explained spokesman Rob Dwight.

"Having the warning at the end of a list of terms and conditions is not acceptable."

He also said that the terms and conditions and pricing information are "very confusing".

Web sites accessed through premium rate lines must abide by what is known as the "walled garden" rule. Under this rule, once the user leaves the premium rate site, the dialler software must automatically disconnect.

But UKPage3.com violates this rule, explained Dwight.

"We accessed a range of other sites and were still being charged at £1.50 per minute," he said.

UKPage3.com also exceeds pricing limits, as calls can cost up to £30. ICSTIS rules state that the maximum cost of a call for premium rate services must be £20.

Last month the US Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Verity International, a porn company run by two Britons, which had been operating a re-dialler service.

The FTC claimed that at least 110,000 visitors to a web site operated by Robert Green and Marilyn Shein had fallen victim to the service, which reconnected to a number in Madagascar.

ICSTIS plans to publish an advise leaflet next to warn British consumers about premium rate Web sites.

Dwight said: "We aren't able to stop these services, and in a way we wouldn't want to. But if people are going to use them then they should at least make sure they know their rights." ®

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