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SMS compo firms fined £200k for typosquatting, misleading punters

Used misspellings of popular sites to lure competition entrants

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PhonepayPlus said R&D Media Europe (R&D) and Unavalley BV (Unavalley) misled consumers into entering the competitions through the practice of typosquatting and that those consumers were then charged for receiving text messages in connection with the competitions being run.

PhonepayPlus found the companies had breached its Code of Practice, ordered them to repay consumers and issued new guidance to both PRS providers and the public about typosquatting. Typosquatting occurs when businesses register websites with addresses that use slightly different characters to other, better known, sites.

Consumers who mistyped web addresses for Twitter, YouTube and Wikipedia and instead visited sites including wikapedia.com and twtter.com were informed that they had won or could win prizes such as iPads and Mac Books, the regulator said. The "landing pages" on the 'squatted' sites "looked like the genuine sites" and "used the same logos, colouring and fonts".

To claim their prize or enter consumers "were given the impression" that all they had to do was enter contact details, including their mobile phone number. Consumers that entered their number then received a PIN code to enter the competitions on the websites. However, the consumers were charged when they received text messages asking quiz or survey questions and were also charged if they answered.

A PhonepayPlus Tribunal ruled that neither R&D nor Unavalley had provided clear information about their pricing and had misled consumers in breach of the rules PRS providers must adhere to.

“These judgements send a clear message to providers that they cannot play on the public’s trust in well-known websites to promote services," Paul Whiteing, PhonepayPlus chief executive, said in a statement.

"We want consumers to continue to have confidence in the digital market place and we will do everything we can to ensure that they do. Most providers support us in this area as they recognise that this market will only grow if consumers have such trust,” he said.

PhonepayPlus has advised the public to check the address they enter via their browsers and check the page they arrive at is what they expect to see. The public can also check the web address to links or pictures are what they expect by hovering the mouse over it before clicking, it said.

The regulator also advised the public to treat their mobile phone "like a bank card" and to only enter their number online if they are prepared to "subscribe to a particular mobile service or wish to be contacted". The public should "always check the small print for conditions and pricing information before entering your mobile number online," it said.

Copyright © 2012, OUT-LAW.com

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