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Complaints concerning premium rate email, SMS and fax services have gone through the roof in the last year as more and more people have been diddled by unscrupulous operators.

The number of complaints about dodgy text message jumped eight-fold in 2002 to more than 1,200. And reports about spam scams - including ones tricking people into unknowingly activating a premium rate Internet dialer - also neared 1,200.

Overall, ICSTIS - the UK regulator for all premium rate telecoms services - reported that complaints about services increased by 43 per cent in 2002 to 11,572, the highest level in the regulator's 17-year history.

But with an explosion in premium rate services - everything from playing interactive TV games, downloading mobile ringtones, receiving news alerts or casting votes in TV shows - comes an increase in complaints.

And while the industry is estimated to be worth around £1bn a year, ICSTIS dished out fines in 2002 of just over £1m.

According to ICSTIS, the growth in services has also led to rise in complaints, although the regulator is convinced the problem is far worse than the figures suggest.

Said ICSTIS Chairman Sir Peter North: "New forms of spam marketing - most obviously text messaging, e-mails and faxes - allow promotions to be sent to millions of people overnight.

"This so-called 'marketing' is often indiscriminate, and the content is too often deceptive and inappropriate to those it reaches. I have no doubt that the number of complaints we receive is just the tip of an iceberg of dissatisfaction." ®

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