£100,000 fine for company that charged for unwanted vouchers
20 March 2014
PhonepayPlus, the premium rate regulator, today ordered refunds to consumers and fined the voucher service Free (b) £100,000 for charging consumers without proof of their consent and for giving the incorrect impression that the service was free.
The company admitted to PhonepayPlus that as many as 30,000 people had been subscribed (and therefore incurred charges) through opt-in details obtained from a third party.
The company promised vouchers giving customers items and services like free entry to cinemas or free coffee in coffee shops but PhonepayPlus found that the advertising for the service didn’t give the full information consumers needed. One advert for the service said that consumers could get a “free (b) lunch.” The name, Free (b) was highlighted as making consumers think the service was free and the website was unclear about the cost of the service. The first thing that consumers saw on the Free (b) website was “GET FREE STUFF TO YOUR MOBILE”, when in reality consumers were charged for vouchers. Free (b) charged £1 for every voucher sent to consumers.
The PhonepayPlus investigation found that the company behind Free (b), Moblix Media Ltd, had charged consumers without their knowledge or agreement.
Complainants to PhonepayPlus said:
“I don’t really know where and how these scammers got my number”
“I was completely unaware that I was being charged”
“I never asked for this service never heard of it and I don’t want to be charged for something I didn’t ask for”
PhonepayPlus requires all services to have robust verification of customers’ consent to be charged but Free (b) could not provide this in many cases.
Consumers from across the country were affected by this service. PhonepayPlus received 52 complaints from consumers who had found the charges on their bills.
Patrick Guthrie, Director of Strategy and Communications at PhonepayPlus, said:
“We found that people were being charged by Free (b) without agreeing to it or even knowing anything about it. Under our rules all consumers must give informed consent before they are charged for any service.
“All phone users should look at their bills regularly and check anything unexpected on the Number Checker on our website.
“Our independent tribunal classed this as very serious and fined Free (b) £100,000.”
For further information, please contact:
PhonepayPlus press office on (020) 7940 7415 or 07912 774 339.
Notes to Editors
- The full Tribunal Decision can be found here from 0001 Hrs Thursday 20 March 2014.
- PhonepayPlus’ Number Checker gives the details of a service when the phone number or shortcode is entered. Number Checker is available here: www.phonepayplus.org.uk
- PhonepayPlus’ Advice to consumers when unexpected charges appear on a bill:
Check if it is a premium rate charge
Premium rate numbers begin with 0871, 0872, 0873, 090 or 118. If it’s a premium rate text service the number will be a five or six-digit shortcode and will probably begin with 5, 6, 7 or 8.
Find out about the premium rate charge
Premium rate charges vary depending on your phone network and your price plan. You can check what the charge is for and the cost of the service by contacting:
- the company that runs the service
- your phone network
You can enter the number into Number Checker to check if we have the name and contact details for the company running the service.
You should check whether the charge is for a single premium rate service or for a subscription premium rate service. Subscription services charge on a regular basis unless you unsubscribe from the service.
Get a refund for a premium rate charge. The company who runs the service or your phone operator may offer you a refund if:
- you have been overcharged for the service
- you have subscribed to a subscription service by mistake
- someone has used your phone without your permission
- the call was made by someone under 18
Stop premium rate charges
You can ask your phone network to bar all premium rate calls or texts from being made from your phone.
You can unsubscribe from a SMS/TEXT premium rate service by texting the word STOP to their shortcode number. If you’re receiving two or more services from the same shortcode you should text STOP ALL.
Contact PhonepayPlus for advice
If you would like advice from PhonepayPlus on a premium rate number you can call its free helpline on 0800 500 212 or contact it at www.phonepayplus.org.uk