We are the UK regulator for content, goods and services charged to a phone bill.

£45,000 fine for misleading apps on Facebook that led to PRS 'Pac-Man' game

20 February 2014

PhonepayPlus, the UK phone-paid services regulator, has today fined Nobinet Ltd £45,000 and ordered refunds over misleading apps on Facebook and Tumblr that led to a ‘Pac-Man’ style game with PRS charges.  PhonepayPlus has issued advice to consumers when using social media and playing online games.

The complaints received by PhonepayPlus about Nobinet included one parent who reported that their 13 year old son was affected and another parent whose 17 year old daughter’s phone had been charged.

There were a number of misleading elements to the service including apps spread virally through Facebook and Tumblr and consumers reporting being unaware that they were paying to play a ‘Pac-Man’ game.

Users of Facebook and Tumblr were misled by adverts promising to reveal who had viewed their profiles. When clicked on, these adverts then re-posted themselves onto the user’s own wall and took users to a 'Pac-Man' style game. Consumers were told that if they obtained the highest score in the game they would be entered into a draw to win high value prizes, including iPads and Playstation 3 consoles.

To enter the game the users were asked to enter their phone numbers but several reported that they hadn’t realised they had signed up for a subscription.

Patrick Guthrie, PhonepayPlus’ Director of Strategy & Communications, said:

“Consumers were tricked into signing up for this service by misleading digital marketing. Most affiliate marketing services follow the rules, but this case should be a warning to consumers to take care following adverts that then require them to enter their phone number online. If an advert promises something that looks too good to be true then treat it with caution.”

PhonepayPlus has issued advice to consumers when online:

  1. Check the address you are looking for. When typing in the address you are looking for, take a second to double-check you have typed correctly, before clicking on ‘search’. When you arrive at the page, check that the web address at the top of the screen (it should usually begin with www.) is the address you searched for.
  2. Is the page you see what you expect? If the web page you arrive at does not contain what you were expecting, it may not be the correct one. For example, if you are looking for Facebook, you should see a page to enter your log in details.
  3. Hover the mouse, before clicking. Hover the mouse over any link or picture before clicking on it to see if the web address you expect appears at the bottom of the window.
  4. Protect your phone number. Remember, your phone is like a bank card - payments can be charged to your bill so treat your phone number like a bank PIN. Only enter your mobile number online if you wish to subscribe to a particular mobile service or wish to be contacted.
  5. Read the small print. Always check the small print for conditions and pricing information before entering your mobile number online, making sure to scroll all the way down the page.

The full Tribunal decision can be found here.