Between 13 May 2014 and 23 February 2015, PhonepayPlus received nine complaints from consumers in relation to a SMS dating and chat service (the “Service”) operated by No Goats Limited (the “Level 2 provider”). The Service operates on the dedicated premium rate shortcodes 63222, 80098 and 89990. Consumers using the shortcodes are charged £1.50 per SMS message received. The Level 1 provider for shortcodes 80098 and 89990 is Fonix Mobile Limited and the Level 1 provider for shortcode 63222 is Oxygen8 Communications UK Limited. The Service commenced operation in January 2014 and it continues to operate.
The Service was promoted in local and regional newspapers in the format of classified dating advertisements and by SMS messages to consumers who had previously interacted with the Service or with other services.
Complainants variously alleged that they were misled by the Service as it was promoted as a dating service but they believed that SMS messages received through the Service were not from genuine users, that the STOP command did not work, that the Service was incorrectly promoted as free, or that the Service was not requested. PhonepayPlus conducted monitoring of the Service which further highlighted concerns about the use of operators.
The Executive raised the following potential breaches of the PhonepayPlus Code of Practice (12th Edition) (the “Code"):
• Rule 2.3.2 – Misleading
• Rule 2.3.1 – Fair and equitable treatment
• Rule 2.3.11 – Method of exit
• Rule 2.2.5 – Lack of pricing information
• Rule 2.2.1(a) – Identity of the Level 2 provider
• Paragraph 3.9.2 - Appropriate use of a number range
The Tribunal upheld all breaches of the Code raised. The Level 2 provider’s revenue in relation to the Service was within the range of Band 2 (£500,000- £999,999). The Tribunal considered the case to be serious and imposed a formal reprimand, a fine of £40,000, a direction to remedy the breaches of the Code (insofar as the Level 2 provider remained in breach of the Code) and produce evidence of this to the satisfaction of PhonepayPlus within 28 days from the date of publication of this decision, and a requirement that the Level 2 provider must refund all consumers who claim a refund, for the full amount spent by them on the Service, within 28 days of their claim, save where there is good cause to believe that such claims are not valid, and provide evidence to PhonepayPlus that such refunds have been made.
Administrative charge recommendation: 100%