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There's been a "significant fall" in the number of people complaining about being ripped off by dodgy premium rate services, according to the latest figures from industry-funded regulator ICSTIS.

ICSTIS received almost 27,000 complaints about premium rate services in 2005 - down 66 per cent compared to 2004. Much of this has been due to a drop in rogue dialler fraud as well as new safeguards that prevent cash being handed over to service providers for 30 days.

This delay in handing over revenues gives ICSTIS time to investigate any complaints and means that scammers are unable to get their hands on cash before making a run for it.

Giving a self-congratulatory pat on the back, ICSTIS boss George Kidd said: "As a result of the preventative action we've been taking, we've been able to deliver a much higher quality public service in our Contact Centre, divert some resources to proactive monitoring and enforcement work, and achieve significant cost savings.

"We know there's still work to be done to tackle those who deliberately set out to rip off the public. However, we're confident that our continued robust enforcement action, together with our greater collaboration with industry players and fellow regulators, will allow us to prevent consumer harm more effectively, better educate and inform the public, and enable market growth and diversity."

It's a far cry from a couple of years ago when MPs warned that unless the premium rate industry cleaned up its act it faced the threat of being put out of business. Unable to handle thousands of complaints from punters ripped off by fraudsters, Conservative MP Sir George Young described the regulator as being in "meltdown".

Speaking in 2004 he said: "On the current scam involving rogue diallers, the regulatory system seems to be in meltdown. Many have tried to complain to ICSTIS, but the line has been constantly engaged. The helpdesk is in meltdown because of a record volume of complaints."

According to the latest estimates, spending on premium rate services in the UK is now more than £1.5bn. ®

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