Ofcom slaps premium rate industry

Cleaning the Augean Stables

Ofcom is targeting telephone network operators in a crackdown against rogue operators that rip-off customers with expensive premium-rate phone calls.

This tough stand follows growing concerns about the fraudulent and misleading use of premium rate services including rogue internet diallers which re-route dial up internet connections onto premium rate numbers without customers' knowledge or consent.

These numbers - which begin with 09 and cost up to £1.50 a minute on a BT line - are typically used for TV vote lines, competitions, adult services, chat lines, mobile phone ring tone downloads and interactive TV games.

However, an increasing part of the £830m a year industry is being hijacked by crooks who think it's an easy way to make money. As part of a wide reange of measures designed to crack down on rogue operators, telecoms regulator Ofcom wants to delay payment to all service providers for at least 30 days. This would give staff at ICSTIS - the premium-rate regulator - time to investigate complaints into whether or not a service provider was running a scam.

Ofcom wants all revenues to be frozen during any ICSTIS investigation - and if necessary for a further three months after an investigation is complete - to ensure that there is money available to repay anyone ripped off by the scammers.

Ofcom also wants network operators to keep more detailed information on the service providers they deal with and to increase the maximum fine of £100,000 against those found to be running bent services.

Said Ofcom chief exec Stephen Carter: "There is a clear need for action here. These are necessary changes to ensure consumer confidence in the premium rate industry for the long term."

Some of the proposals put forward by Ofcom today are already being introduced while others will be subject to public consultation during next year.

If all this is too scary, punters can contact their own telco to get premium numbers blocked. For instance, BT will block all calls to premium-rate numbers for free. But if you like to vote in "I'm a Celeb" or "X-Factor", you can pay a couple of quid a month and block calls selectively. ®

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BT blocks 1,000 rogue dialler numbers

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