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Watchdog bares teeth at mobile premium rate scams

Text 'STOP', 'STOP', oh please just 'STOP'

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Dodgy premium rate mobile services are to face a probe by PhonepayPlus, after the watchdog this year saw a big increase in the number of complaints it receives and the fines it slaps on operators.

PhonepayPlus received more than 4,500 complaints about ringtones, games, competitions and other premium mobile services in the first three months of 2008. They accounted for 80 per cent of the total complaints across fixed line and mobile.

The fines for scammy mobile services that PhonepayPlus has applied so far this year are already close to 2007's total of about £360,000. Today it published verdicts on four more operators totalling £68,000 and said the market showed "recent evidence of significant consumer harm".

Many complaints have been from consumers who had subscribed to a service and later sent a "STOP" text, only for the service and its premium rate charges to continue. Others have been annoyed at rising text spam.

A spokesman said the probe will aim to take a strategic view of how to ensure better compliance with regulations. New regulations and policies are possible too, he said.

The results of the review should be published in July. Chief executive George Kidd said: "There are clear rules when it comes to the promotion, content and delivery of mobile phone paid services. We expect these rules to be followed and any failings of compliance will be punished."

PhonepayPlus was known as Icstis until last year's TV phone-in scandal. It was heavily criticised and has been rebranded and restructured to work more closely with Ofcom, which has ultimate responsibility for telecoms regulation. ®

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